Dayton in the driver’s seat

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Dayton stood at a podium in front of reporters and laid out a long list of demands that lawmakers must meet for him consider calling the Legislature back to St. Paul.

For Gov. Mark Dayton, a year really does make a difference.

In June of 2015, the second-term Democrat was negotiating a special session with legislative leaders, who teamed up at the end of session to pass a $40 billion-plus budget bill. Dayton felt cut out of that last-minute deal, and he didn’t like that one of his key priorities, preschool education funding, wasn’t included in the agreement. After he vetoed several budget bills, he called a one-day special session to resolve the differences, only to see his preschool proposal pushed aside once again to get a deal.

On Wednesday, just one year later, Dayton stood at a podium in front of reporters and laid out a long list of demands that lawmakers must meet for him consider calling the Legislature back to St. Paul. And this time, it’s lawmakers who are desperate for the special session.

Among those requirements: $182 million more in public works projects of his choosing; $75 million in additional spending out of a state budget surplus over the next year; new deductions and technical fixes to a tax bill; and funding for transit projects in the metro area. If lawmakers don’t agree, Dayton said, then there might not be a special session. 

“They all need to be in there. I expect them all to be in there. I require them all to be in there,” he said, using up all of the words to describe his insistence he could think of on the spot, before pausing briefly. “That’s it.”

Dayton’s demands

The power play is a dramatic turn from what Dayton has experienced in the past with the current Republican-controlled House and DFL-led Senate. In addition to feeling cut out of last-minute budget negotiations in 2015, Dayton was repeatedly rebuffed by legislative leaders when he called for numerous special sessions over the last year, on everything from a walleye shortage at Lake Mille Lacs to extending unemployment benefits for miners.

Back then, it was Dayton who wanted the special sessions to deal with what he saw as emergency situations, but the Legislature pushed back, noting that traditionally special sessions were only used to deal with natural disasters or outstanding budget issues.

Now it’s lawmakers who want a special session, after a $1 billion bonding bill and a $275 million one-time transportation-funding package fell apart in the final minutes of session. All 201 legislative seats are on the ballot this fall, and transportation and infrastructure improvements were high on their list of things incumbents wanted to be able to take back to voters. Dayton isn’t running this year, or ever again, but only he has the power to call them back.

Dayton’s list of demands is long, and essentially re-opens most of the major issues that were debated all session long. Among his requirements:

  • $21 million in operating support for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system
  • $20.5 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund and Job Creation Fund
  • $22 million for staffing at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter
  • $66 million in bonding for the University of Minnesota’s Health Sciences Education Facility
  • $26.5 million in bonding for construction on the campuses of the Minnesota Security Hospital and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program
  • $34 million in bonding to make improvements to Fort Snelling’s visitor center and barracks
  • A permanent tax exemption for the Minnesota State High School League in the tax bill; a current exemption is about to expire
  • Fix a drafting error in the tax bill related to pull-tabs and bingo halls that, if uncorrected, would leave a gap in general fund revenue

He’s also appointed Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to try and re-open the discussion on a long-term transportation funding deal, saying it must include some kind of funding mechanism to allow local governments to raise the funding needed for transit projects, including the controversial Southwest Light Rail line.

It was transit that led to the unraveling of a bonding and transportation deal in the final moments of session, with Senate Democrats adding a proposal after leaders said they agreed to give Hennepin County the authority to raise local funds to pay for such projects. House Republicans said there was no such agreement, and with minutes to spare, adjourned the House instead of taking final action on the amended bill. 

“These are my requirements,” Dayton said. “Not to satisfy me, but for the needs of Minnesota.”

Those requirements come on top of some key Dayton victories in a $182 million budget bill passed this year, which he signed Wednesday morning, including $35 million in funding for racial disparities and expanding broadband in Greater Minnesota, two key priorities for the governor. Also tucked inside the 599-page bill: $25 million for Dayton’s signature priority, a statewide voluntary preschool proposal — the same one lawmakers pushed back on just a year ago.

A risky strategy? 

Standing outside the State Office Building after Dayton laid out his demands, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he can agree to take care of Dayton’s concerns in the tax bill. Dayton has until Monday to sign or veto the proposal, otherwise it will be automatically vetoed.

Daudt struck a cordial tone in his comments when it came to Dayton’s other demands, careful not to be too critical or specific. “We need to do more research on those items,” Daudt said.

Many Republican legislators, including Daudt, have been traveling around the state in the days since the session ended to try and put pressure on the governor to call a special session. But Daudt said he’s worried the level of new spending in Dayton’s demands would land “like a lead balloon” with House Republicans. 

House Speaker Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
House Speaker Kurt Daudt

“That’s part of negotiations, right?” Daudt said. “I’m not drawing any lines in the sand to say, ‘we will’ or ‘will not.’” 

There’s risk for Dayton, too. While only the governor can call lawmakers into a special session, only those legislators can decide when they are finished. To keep the agenda from spiraling out of control, Dayton said he’ll need a signed agreement from leaders of all four legislative caucuses on the parameters of a likely one-day special session. Just last year, rank-and-file lawmakers moved to amend budget bills during the June special session — against an agreement leaders struck with Dayton — and the whole thing nearly unraveled.

There’s also the chance Dayton’s long list of demands could turn some legislators off to doing a special session at all, or at least to doing anything other than fixing the tax bill. Daudt said he hoped the governor was willing to be “reasonable” and negotiate the items his list, but Senate Republican Minority Leader David Hann said Dayton’s requirements are a non-starter for his caucus.

“I cannot agree to your multi-page list of non-negotiable spending demands,” Hann said in a letter. “This can only be interpreted as an attempt to scuttle the compromises reached by the legislature on major bills passed this session.”

For their part, Democrats seem mostly supportive. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said he could put his signature on an agreement that included the items on Dayton’s list, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said many of the priorities are “ones shared by DFL senators.”

“I am glad the Speaker is willing to resolve the outstanding issues with the tax bill,” Bakk said. “And [I] hope this sets a good tone for special session negotiations.”

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/02/2016 - 11:14 pm.

    King Mark is in the driver’s seat

    Only if everyone else gets in the car. I’m not surprised that Sen. Bakk and Rep. Thissen are willing to spend a ton more money, but hopefully no one else is on board. No matter what, only three people will be making all the decisions (Dayton, Bakk, Daudt) so make sure that you all remind your Legislators of that fact when they come looking for your vote…

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 06/03/2016 - 07:14 am.

      If You Think

      Gov. Dayton is acting like a king, you’d be absolutley irate if you lived in Kansas under Brownback. Or Wisconsin under the gerrymandered GOP majority.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 06/05/2016 - 01:48 am.

      I hope the voters remind them of this too

      Your comment inspired me to do a little digging around to see what this web site and the people commenting had to say right after the 2012 election when MN voters decided to take away Republican’s control of the House and Senate and turn the whole shooting match over to Democrats.

      In the comments of this November 7th, 2012 article . . .

      . . . you had this to say (under “Mission Creep!”):

      “The President and the Governor want to tax the top 2% more, not 5%. There is no reason they both can’t implement their wishes and I hope that they succeed. Once this happens there will be proof that the amount of money taken in won’t be nearly enough to fix the deficit or cover the spending that they propose. Then we find out who’s next. And we can stop listening to the tired mantra ‘tax the rich.’ ”

      As we know, your hope was realized: “King Mark” and the Dems did exactly that and, it turned out, there WAS enough money taken in to fix the deficit, pay back the schools, replenish state reserves, provide hundreds of millions in middle class tax cuts, restore some of the LGA that had been stripped away (during the decade of “Pawlenty era” deficits), stop the year-on-year property tax increases, cover all that spending the “King” and Dems proposed AND, wonder-of-wonders, create just under $3 billion in surpluses over the past two years.

      So, given what you had to say in 2012, does that mean you (and a lot of other people who said the same thing) were mistaken and that the proof (of that “tired manta”) is actually the opposite? Does it mean you actually CAN raise taxes on the wealthiest people in society and be able to stay out of deficits, balance the books, pay for what needs paying for AND have a little left over (to invest, or have on-hand, just in case something goes wrong)?

      Or what?

  2. Submitted by Craig Johnson on 06/03/2016 - 08:24 am.

    Go Governor, Go

    Only one person is subject to state wide election: the Governor. When he or she faces a legislative rumpus room, a firm stand is inevitable. Legislators fearing voter backlash from tax increases are taking the cowards way out. Regardless of Party, the effective role of governance is active engagement of problems ending with an effective solution. This legislature has not shown the requisite strength of character to deserve another do-nothing term.

    If the Governor wishes to leave the legislature twisting in the wind, we must remember that the legislators put themselves in jeopardy – and the Governor is giving them a chance to redeem themselves – by doing something for a change: like honest recognition of the fiscal needs of the state with regard to infrastructure, security, education, health care, transportation, as well as fixing their own shoddy legislation mistakes.

    Hooray Mark Dayton, thank you for helping Minnesota do what needs to be done.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/03/2016 - 10:08 am.


      Republicans conveniently forget the pile of poop left behind from failed presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty’s administration and their forecast of dire consequences if liberal, tax and spend Mark Dayton was elected governor to replace him. Instead, Dayton wins, does everything the GOP said would lead to ruin and out the other end comes unprecedented economic success. And now Speaker Daudt and company want to return us to the same short sighted policies that made the mess in the first place and simultaneously act like they had something to do with our recent successes. The Democrats are clearly the adults in the room, understanding that things like long term transportation needs can’t be solve by TPAW like magic budget shifts, or that you don’t walk away from a 4 billion dollar mass transit master plan half way in because it looks good to out state voters. Daudt, Pepin and Hann, the not ready for prime time players….

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/04/2016 - 10:55 am.

    No automatic veto

    Actually, if Dayton doesn’t sign the bill it become law without his signature.

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