To be continued: Dayton’s budget moves set up another showdown with legislative Republicans

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to renegotiate several provisions in the tax bill, including business property tax and estate tax cuts, as well as tax breaks on tobacco and cigars.

It’s all over — or is it?

That’s been the lingering question around Minnesota politics in 2017, first after a handshake agreement on a two-year, $46 billion state budget to end the regular session of the Legislature, followed by a touch-and-go 75-hour special session that seemed like it could go on forever. 

On Tuesday, it became a question of whether lawmakers would have to come back yet again, after DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed all of the Legislature’s budget bills, though he vetoed millions of dollars to fund the operations of the state House and Senate.

It was a politically shrewd move that — at least according to Dayton — was inspired by another shrewd move by Republicans in control of the Legislature: to make funding for the Department of Revenue contingent on the governor signing a $650 million tax bill they wanted. 

Dayton signed the tax bill to protect funding for the department, he said, but he eliminated funding for the Legislature in a state government bill in order to compel lawmakers back to the negotiation table to discuss a number of provisions. Under Minnesota law, governors cannot eliminate policy language in bills, but they do have the line-item authority to veto individual budget appropriations.

“I consider this provision … to be a reprehensible sneak attack, which shatters whatever trust we achieved during the session,” Dayton said in a letter to lawmakers. “Because of your action, which attempts to restrict my executive power, I am left with only the following means to raise my strong objections to your tax bill, which favors wealthy individuals, large corporations and moneyed special interests at the expense of the state of Minnesota’s fiscal stability in the years ahead.”

Avoids a government shutdown

In a special session, Dayton wants to renegotiate several provisions in the tax bill, including business property tax and estate tax cuts, as well as tax breaks on tobacco and cigars. On Twitter, Senate Taxes Chairman Roger Chamberlain said Dayton’s response to the tax bill was “outrageous.”

“We agreed to tax bill,” Chamberlain said. “I sat at table [with him], he agreed to compromise.”

Dayton also wants to discuss a teacher licensure provision he signed into law in the education budget bill, as well as a controversial provision to bar the Department of Public Safety from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, which was tucked into the public safety budget bill. In the final hours of the special session, Dayton was the subject of intense lobbying from progressive activists, who urged him to veto all the budget bills and their objectionable provisions and start over again. 

But on Tuesday, Dayton hearkened back to 2011, his first session as governor, when he and a Republican-controlled Legislature battled over how to solve a $6 billion budget deficit. That disagreement stretched into a historic, 20-day government shutdown. This year, Dayton signed the budget bills to avoid that scenario, even though he disagreed with provisions in each bill, he said. Without a budget agreement, a government shutdown would have happened automatically after June 30, the last day of the fiscal year.

“Having been through 20 tumultuous days in July 2011, I understand the enormous uncertainties and disruptions that even the threat of another shutdown would cause for many thousands of Minnesotans,” he said. “I also know from prior experience that it is extremely unrealistic for any of us to imagine we would achieve any better results from protracted budget negotiations well into June.”

The move leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Top Republican leaders said Dayton was violating the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and the executive branch, and legal challenges are likely forthcoming, reports MPR News. The Legislature also has a carry-forward fund — reserves of between $3 million and $7 million saved up over the years — that could be used for paychecks for lawmakers and staff for at least a few months.

“I am disappointed in the governor’s behavior — eliminating funding of the Legislature in order to get his way on policies he has already agreed to,” Daudt said, noting that the Senate has 67 members who each represent nearly 80,000 residents and the House has 134 members who each represent nearly 40,000 people. “Ultimately, I believe the governor is acting unconstitutionally by defunding a separate branch of government that represents the voice of the people at the Capitol.” 

Pre-emption vetoed

In the budget bills he did sign, Dayton approved things like a 2 percent increase on the education formula each year for the next two years, tax reductions on Social Security income, more funding for higher education institutions, $300 million for road and bridge projects and increased funding for the courts, local governments and broadband access. His administration was involved in negotiating those bills until the final hours of the special session.

Dayton also signed a nearly $1 billion package of bonding projects and a bill that funds projects through the Legacy Amendment, but he issued a veto on a bill that included a pre-emption proposal, which would have blocked local governments from setting their own wage and paid leave laws. (One budget bill included a single pre-emption measure: Dayton signed a jobs and economic development budget that bars local governments from banning plastic bags in grocery stores.)

“Local governments can be more adept at responding to local needs with ordinances that reflect local values and the unique needs of their communities,” Dayton said in his veto letter. “State government does not always know what works best for every community, and may lag behind when improvements are needed.” 

During the first special session of the Legislature, Republicans followed through on a promise to Dayton not to tie the pre-emption bill to budget bills, but they did try to sweeten the deal by adding other things Democrats wanted, like paid parental leave for state workers, wage theft provisions and changes to state pension plans. 

Yet Dayton’s administration claimed the parental leave and ratification of worker contracts were effective immediately upon the final votes of the House and Senate, leaving even more legal questions in the wake of the 2017 session. “The veto of this bill has no legal effect on the on the bargaining agreements and compensation plans,” he wrote.

It was a messy end to another messy year at the Capitol, after voters gave Republicans complete control of the Legislature last fall. Regardless of legal outcomes, however, the session didn’t end in a government shutdown, as many predicted earlier in session.

“I’ve done what I’ve done,” Dayton said. “I signed the rest of the budget because I wanted to remove any possibility that those jobs and the whole function of state government would be put into jeopardy and used as a political bargaining chip in what ensues.” 

Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 05/31/2017 - 08:49 am.

    People forget

    This move was not done in isolation. The GOP has stripped the minority of staff support since they got power, something that was not done in the past by Dems.

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/31/2017 - 09:18 am.

    I hope he runs again!

    If a member of the GOP had done this it would be called a “mean-spirited almost a juvenile response.”

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/31/2017 - 11:30 am.

      Really

      There was a Constitutional amendment on the ballot last year.

      More than 70% of voters voted in favor of it.

      To repeat: MORE THAN SEVENTY PERCENT OF MN VOTERS APPROVED IT!

      The amendment said legislators should not set their own pay rate.

      It said that decision should be made by a non-partisan commission.

      That commission was set up, did its job and came to the conclusion legislators needed to be paid more.

      But the leader of the Republican party, Kurt Daudt, didn’t like that decision.

      So . . .

      “Pay raise for state lawmakers NOT in final budget bill approved by MN Legislature

      “A special commission authorized by voters approved an increase, but House Republican leaders refused to appropriate money to pay for it.”

      http://minnesotanewsnetwork.com/pay-raise-state-lawmakers-not-final-budget-bill-approved-mn-legislature/

      Minnesota VOTERS made it (very) clear that they wanted politicians to keep their political noses out of setting lawmaker’s pay rates.

      But little king Kurt didn’t agree.

      So he and his faithful minions decided to override the VOTER’S decision and disregard the Minnesota Constitution.

      What do you call that?

      Legal?

      • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/31/2017 - 01:33 pm.

        please…

        Did not Dayton just “cut their pay?”

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/01/2017 - 02:44 pm.

          No

          He refused to appropriate the money for their pay. There’s a big difference, and if they can’t see it, they should go home and crack open a civics text book.

          • Submitted by richard owens on 06/07/2017 - 09:51 am.

            According to Mike Hatch,

            (on Almanac) The Legislature is funded routinely with a kind of “continuing resolution” that KEEPS the Legislative Fund balance, and adds to it each biennium. Hatch said the court would want to know how much money they have in the fund before proceeding too far in the case.

            This Legislative fund, unlike other State funds, does not relinquish balances at the end of the funding term, but gets to keep it without a detailed accounting. It’s nice to be Law Makers.

            Daught says he will use those Legislature funds to pay for the lawsuit, and that he’s found a firm that will do it for half their usual rate. If I recall correctly the MNGop got in trouble before for how they finance their lawsuits. I’m not sure the MNGop has paid all their party’s debts even now. They don’t seem to handle their own money very well either.

            The Governor say the Legislature isn’t in session and so they have no need for more money right now anyway.

            I think Curt is desperate to get a loud crisis brewing to get his potential voters outraged enough to make him governor. Could we see another TPaw in the works? The budget is nearly fixed, maybe it’s time for the party that hates government to take over the helm again.

            Wise politicians would fund transportation, gas taxes, road and bridge repair and expand Pre-K. Leaving the Federal light rail money on the table is surely not “wise”, even if the GOP hates city folk too. Maybe Republicans should elect candidates that believe in the MN government and like to govern. We’d have more unanimity if we all wanted success.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/31/2017 - 09:43 am.

    Brilliant!

    I don’t know if it will work in the end, but the idea of turning the tables on the Republicans was brilliant. Now the guys who always threaten to de-fund the executive (i.e. the government) find themselves on the other end of the de-funding stick… let’s see how THEY like losing their funding!

    Republican complaints about Dayton going back on his word are patently ridiculous. Dayton did NOT agree to these policy measure, and he surely did not agree to a provision that would shut down the department of revenue. Republican were clearly disingenuous and thought they were being very clever. If Republicans really thought they were honoring an agreement, they wouldn’t have tried to build in anti-veto insurance. Clearly they knew they sending up bills that violated the “agreement” and were trying to forestall a promised veto.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/31/2017 - 10:34 am.

    To clever

    Quite honestly, if I were a Republican, a thought ordinarily too horrible to contemplate for any sustained period of time, I would just say ok and walk away, and campaign next year on the cost savings achieved by defunding the legislature.

    A basic rule of politics is that any action that can be fairly characterized as “politically shrewd” is almost certainly a bad idea.

    • Submitted by Bob Petersen on 05/31/2017 - 12:46 pm.

      Step Further

      If I were the Republicans, I’d just say ok and not show up anymore. The gov thinks he has it over on the Legislature but who is responsible for line item veto that the Legislature gets zero dollars. The bills had the funding that the guv decided to veto. Nothing will get done next time around.

      • Submitted by Mark Snyder on 05/31/2017 - 02:12 pm.

        Nothing

        needs to get done in the second year of the biennium. The first year of the biennium is to set the state budget. That’s done. The second year of the biennium is usually for setting a bonding bill. Because the House Speaker screwed that up last year, they passed one this year instead. So the only thing there might need to be another session for is if an emergency comes up. And then we’ll see if the GOP can put the needs of the state ahead of their tax-averse supporters.

  5. Submitted by Mike Schumann on 05/31/2017 - 12:13 pm.

    Legislative Pay

    Good for Governor Dayton. Let’s make this permanent and eliminate all pay for all legislators and make this a volunteer position. That will take care of all of the mickey mouse that’s going on and get people into office who care about the state and are focused on getting the essential work done and going home to their real jobs.

    Better yet, lets expand that idea and make the Governor’s job unpaid too.

    • Submitted by Dan Landherr on 06/01/2017 - 10:27 am.

      You must enjoy corruption

      You will only end up with two types of people willing to run for office if you do not pay elected officials – the already wealthy who want power and people who are willing to sell political power for wealth.

      The job is important and people deserve compensation for their time. Decent pay encourages decent people to take the job.

  6. Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 05/31/2017 - 12:13 pm.

    Good for Govn Dayton!

    I am pleased as punch that a DEM is finally showing the chutzpah to stand up to the REPs in an effective way. We need more DEMs to start do this!

    So Govn Dayton is playing the game the way the REPs have been for some years now, and they don’t like it. Oh well! Stop your whiny, complaining and incessant PR events in front of the cameras and start doing what is best for the masses, for a change.

    Oh and here are some more good ideas:

    1 – stop inserting secret midnight deals into bills, and
    2 – get your work done in the allotted amount of time! No more $$ special sessions!

  7. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 06/01/2017 - 08:42 am.

    And of course…

    How did legislators expect to get funding if the Dept. of Revenue shut down? The legislature doesn’t get it’s funding from a different source, apparently Republican legislators were perfectly willing to forego their own funding or they wouldn’t have put that provision into the bill. These legislators have made a habit out of shutting everyone else down with impunity as if their own funding grows on trees somewhere. Dayton has just turned the table on them.

  8. Submitted by Chris Williams on 06/01/2017 - 11:10 am.

    Here we go again….

    I just love it when the party of “local control” insists on passing bills taking away policy setting power from local governments. Of course the irony is lost on it’s voters, who will reliably vote red until they die – but some of us enjoy the humor and hypocrisy 🙂

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/01/2017 - 02:58 pm.

      You Don’t Get It

      This iteration of the Legislature is making a priority of the interests of greater Minnesota. That’s why they said no local plastic bag bans! Because greater Minnesota thrives when big city hippies get punched.

  9. Submitted by Arthur Swenson on 06/04/2017 - 09:18 am.

    Three Cheers For Governor Dayton

    Dear Governor Dayton,

    Would you PLEASE reconsider running for re-election?

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