End-of-session drama raises larger question for Dayton, GOP leaders: What does compromise even look like anymore?

Gov. Mark Dayton: “We’re co-equal branches of government, and we need to both acknowledge each other’s priorities.”

Gov. Mark Dayton often resorts to a football metaphor to explain how he thinks negotiations with the Republican-controlled Legislature ought to work.

They way he describes it, he starts in his end zone; they start in their end zone. Once each side has moved some and they are both approaching the 50 yard line, a deal can be done. “I recognize they need to get some of what they want. … I have my priorities, and they have theirs,” the DFL governor said after vetoing a GOP tax conformity bill at an elaborately staged event last week at St. Paul grade school library, where a few dozen second- and third-graders looking on and shouting “Veto” as he applied the red stamp.  

“We’re co-equal branches of government, and we need to both acknowledge each other’s priorities,” he said.

But it’s not clear the governor and Republican leaders at the Capitol are even playing on the same field these days. When the Legislature adjourned just before midnight Sunday — their deadline for passing bills this year — lawmakers were left hoping Dayton wouldn’t follow through on his threat to veto a massive omnibus bill as well as an attempt to bring state tax law into conformity with the new federal tax code, a disconnect that may be traced not so much to differences of political philosophy but disagreements over what constitutes compromise; what “halfway” looks like — or even it it exists at all anymore.

‘They say that’s a compromise?’

After Dayton issued his veto on the tax conformity bill last week, he complained about what he saw as a lack of good faith on the part of Republicans when it came to address his problems with the measure. 

“They took two things out and they say that’s compromise?” he said. “They didn’t talk to me about it. There’s a lot more in that bill I find objectionable. Some of it I’ll swallow for the sake of reasonable compromise, but it’s not compromise when they do their own thing behind closed doors.”

By Saturday evening, it was Republican legislative leaders’ turn to contemplate the meaning of compromise, saying they found little give-and-take in what Dayton had termed his “global compromise” on spending and taxes.

Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt noted that of the list of 116 objections to the omnibus supplemental budget bill that Dayton had provided them, Republicans had accommodated the governor on 71 of them. “Sometimes around here we think if we can get to the 50 yard line, that sounds great,” Daudt said. “We’re beyond the 50 yard line, we went beyond the 60, you know, we’re beyond 60 yards closer to the governor.”

So, facing the threat of vetoes, Republicans went ahead and passed bills anyway. Their massive supplemental budget bill (it came in at almost 1,000 pages) was passed by the Senate and House as Saturday night bled into Sunday morning.

Nicknamed the Mega-Omnibus, it contains about $150 million in new spending (the two-year budget is $46 billion)  and is mostly a collection of disconnected policy bills that are bundled to gather votes and make the bill harder to veto. Included is what the Legislature could come up with on opioids; elder care; school safety; fixes to the troubled MNLARS computer systems; and authority to spend federal money on election security.

Given that Dayton had vetoed a bunch of bills that were sent as separate legislation, putting a bunch of stuff in individual bills couldn’t hurt, Republicans figured. “Maybe there’s one or two things here or there that one of us doesn’t like but there’s 10 or 20 things here that all of us like,” Gazelka said. “But compromise means we get some of what we like too.”

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Dayton threat is real, and that the Senate could salvage the session by taking it back to negotiating committee and finding a way to make it into something the governor would sign. “To send it to a certain veto wastes everyone’s time,” Bakk said. “I don’t know why we would do that.”

The same disconnect between the parties — on what constitutes a compromise and what give-and-take looks like — played out again Sunday when the House debated a new bill combining school funding and tax conformity.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, described the GOP approach toward the governor like this: “We’re going to shove it at you and we’re going to see how much you’re willing to take. … If this session ends in a heap of nothing, it will be because this Republican majority didn’t learn the lesson that you have to listen to the governor if you want bills to become laws.”

But House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said the GOP gave a lot after listening to Dayton. “A lot of things he wanted to get rid of were priorities for Republicans,” Peppin said. “But it’s not fair that we would throw away all of the concerns that the House and Senate have identified as priorities.”

House tax chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, listed a series of items Dayton objected to  — including the tax-cut triggers, the estate tax and restrictions on expansion of MNsure — before saying: “What did Uncle Greg do? He listened and pulled them out.”

Early Sunday evening, House GOP leaders once again said they hoped Dayton would sign the bills, even though Gazelka complained that Dayton had — wait for it — “moved the goalposts” when he came up with his demand for more school money.

Though he said his contacts with Dayton senior staff “had gone dark” Sunday afternoon, he said leaders were still trying to make the supplemental budget bill even less objectionable by removing two more troubling sections. “In the end, I think the governor will sign that bill.” Daudt said of the omnibus. “I’m also hopeful on the tax bill.”

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Majority Leader Joyce Peppin speaking to the press over the weekend as House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman looks on.

But by Sunday night, Dayton had all but killed any hopes that he might come around on any of it. He repeated that he would veto the spending omnibus and the new bill that addressed tax conformity and school funding. “I’ve seen nothing that would indicate to me that I would sign it,” Dayton said.

And he accused Republicans of putting measures he likes in with stuff he hates just to set him up. “They know I’m not going to sign it. So they can say, ‘Dayton vetoes school safety,’” he said. “It’s really appalling.”

‘This session has been a shambles’

One reason for the end-of-session drama this year is that nobody involved has forgotten last year. In May of 2017, Dayton signed budget bills that included a set of items he loathed: a tobacco tax cut ( including on premium cigars); an expansion of the estate tax exemptions; a commercial property tax freeze; and provisions to block undocumented immigrants from getting driver’s licenses.

There were other issues, too, but those four were on a list that he insisted be reversed or changed in exchange for calling a special session. A session that was needed because Dayton had used his item veto powers to zero out funding for the Legislature itself.

Dayton and the GOP Legislature fought over the move in court and eventually called a truce. But it might have left Dayton reluctant to go through that process again. “The chances of a budget bill are pretty much slim,” Dayton said Saturday night, and putting school safety money into the same bill as the tax conformity language he already vetoed meant he couldn’t sign that either, he said.

Even so, he says he’ll take all the time the state constitution allows — 14 days — to consider any bills that come his way. “After what happened last year, I’m going to have staff go through the budget bill before I would even consider signing it,” he said.

Yet he already had a epitaph for the 2018 Legislature. “I think this session has been a shambles,” calling management of the final days “the worst I’ve ever seen.”

In fact, Dayton even appears ready to pass on a chance to declare victory on emergency school funding. The governor’s late-in-session request was for $138 million from the state surplus, money that would be sent to every school district in the state based on the per-student formula. When he first made the call, GOP lawmakers said it was too late, that they weren’t sure that some districts hadn’t mismanaged themselves into deficit, that most districts don’t need the money.

Gazelka, even called it “next to impossible” because of the late request. But then Dayton linked it to the tax conformity bill, and by Saturday night, GOP leaders had made a proposal to shift some money from a set of funds that could be used to get districts through the 2018-2019 school year. When lawmakers tackle the next two-year budget, during the 2019 session, they could make permanent fixes if still needed.

School boards would be allowed to use money set aside for staff development to fill budget holes. Under current law, diverting that money required agreement from the teachers union. School boards could also dip into money that is now for community education programs. Finally, there would be $50 million in money that should have flowed from the state for use of state school trust lands.

Dayton didn’t like it, saying it simply shifts money around rather than giving  new money to schools. It also exists inside the tax bill, which he has within his veto sights. School safety money is included in the same bill, but also in a bonding bill, which could face a better fate given some late support from Democrats in both houses and Hortman said early Monday she thought Dayton would sign it.

Legislative issues become campaign issues

The lack of checked-off accomplishments at the 2018 session is stark given the limited list of must-dos with which lawmakers started the session.

Mostly, the session was supposed to be for issues that have emerged since adjournment last spring, including responding to the scourge of opioid addiction and overdoses; the scandal of abuse and neglect at elder care facilities; and the federal tax overhaul that could have substantial negative implications for Minnesota taxpayers if adjustments aren’t made.

After a string of sexual harassment allegations toppled two incumbent legislators and forced consideration of better protections for harassment victims both inside and outside of government, that issue was also expected to be addressed, as was student safety in the wake of school schools in Parkland, Florida and — on Friday — in Santa Fe, Texas.

For various reasons, many if not all of those issues transformed from must-dos to  must-don’ts, going from legislative issues to campaign ones. That became clear with Dayton’s parting shot at Republicans during the governor’s final legislative press conference.

“Their objective is to sign up with every monied interest, every special interest available to them: the big drug companies, the big multinational corporations, the NRA, the nursing home chains — everyone who has something they want for next fall.”

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 05/21/2018 - 12:38 pm.

    Pass bills that Dayton will sign.

    Once again, Republicans fail to do their job. Here is why –
    1. They didn’t learn their lesson last year,
    2. They prioritized election year politics by wasting time on things like fetal abortion bills.
    3. They fear being accused on compromise by hardliners.
    4. They continue want to undo what Dayton, much like Trump’s vendetta against Obama, even it hurts Minnesotans through loss of health coverage.
    5. They try to pretend Dayton priorities like helping out struggling school districts is less important than tax cuts.
    6. They expect a special session,

    Offer more reasons if you like, particularly positive reasons for getting nothing done. I don’t see any.

  2. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 05/21/2018 - 02:33 pm.

    Great Analogy!

    Gov. Dayton offers an insightful analogy of what compromise should look like with his football field scenario. Minnesota Republicans however, have determined that compromise begins with Gov. Dayton standing on his 50 yard. line (not in his end zone) while they start in their end zone; then he moves to their 20 yard line so he gives up 80% of his ground and they give up 20%. And that, by Republican measure, is a fair compromise.

    • Submitted by Wilj Flisch on 05/22/2018 - 03:12 am.

      Football

      The only thing that this really points out to me, to be honest, is what a dumb sport football is. The idea that politics, legislating or budgeting should be equally dumb is simply confounding…

  3. Submitted by Christopher Gaffer on 05/21/2018 - 05:11 pm.

    Another wasted session for Minnesotans

    I am so sick and tired of the Legislative gridlock!
    The only worthwhile Constitutional amendment ought allow only for up or down votes on single issue or topic-related bills. Enough of the omnibus bills.
    When elected representatives play games with legislation the public needs to remind them of the rules. Let’s start the campaign to get this idea on the ballot by 2020!

  4. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/21/2018 - 08:25 pm.

    Dayton Legacy

    Mark Dayton will be known as the “shut down, defund, and veto” governor.

    He also received a doubling of the State budget in 7 years and it is still not enough money to satisfy the DFL special interests.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/21/2018 - 08:27 pm.

    Once again…

    Minnesota Republicans, with a majority on both houses of the legislature, have proved themselves astonishingly inept, and basically unable to govern when given the opportunity. Don’t give them more opportunities. They don’t appear to get better with practice.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/21/2018 - 11:18 pm.

    Republicans prove over and over

    they don’t know what to do with money, except give it to the wealthy. Examples: George W. Bush nearly ruined the world economy, Tim Pawlenty the $6 billion dollar debt guy, Sam Brownback nearly ruined Kansas, MN Republican legislators don’t know how to lead. Republican’s so called worthless principles are only in effect when Democrats are in control.

  7. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 05/22/2018 - 07:32 am.

    Setting the governor up

    The problem isn’t the “Republicans … putting measures [the governor] likes in with stuff he hates.” The problem is that they put measures *both* the legislature *and* the governor like in with stuff the governor hates.

    If the governor and legislature were negotiating a compromise as equals, it would be entirely rational for them to bundle together some proposals the governor favors and the legislature opposes with some proposals the governor opposes and the legislature favors. But it would be irrational for them to throw in any measures that both favor. Those they would enact as standalone bills. Since both sides favor those provisions, they would want to maximize the speed and sureness with which they were enacted, rather than holding them up in a risky negotiation. And since such a mutually-favored provision isn’t a concession for either side, it isn’t useful to include as a bargaining chip.

    So why, then, did the legislature pack the bills with so many provisions that everyone agrees are in the state’s best interest? They did it because the negotiating situation is not balanced: there is a distinct first mover and second mover. The legislature passes a bill at the end of the session and then adjourns. The governor is forced to either sign or not. By putting in a provision that everyone knows is good, the first mover is coercing the second mover. That’s how the legislature “set him up.” And it is “really appalling” not just because it reduces the governor’s influence, but because it reduces the sureness and swiftness with which clearly beneficial provisions are enacted.

  8. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/22/2018 - 07:54 am.

    Democracy is based on dissent and compromise.

    The omnibus bill is a fundamentally undemocratic practice–the attempt to force through the poisonous wrapped in the palatable. It really is another step toward the undoing of democracy. Hidden agendas, easter-eggs in the bills–presented in last hours of a session.

    The end game, as one after another democratic processes are twisted into impotency, is the claim that one-party rule (or a leader-for-life) is the only way to save the state/country. Not compromise. Not recognizing the validity of the other’s position.

    “Only I can fix it.” “Trains on time” and all that…

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2018 - 09:15 am.

    Compromise is actually a real thing.

    Compromise is a real thing, and it doesn’t look any different now than it ever has. You either have compromise or you don’t.

    It looks to me like Republicans have hired some branding or public relations folks that have helped message their attempts to impose their agenda as “compromise”, but it’s not compromise.

    I was watching this fiasco Sunday night (On TPT) around 11:00 pm or so and a Republican stood to describe a wild rice bill as a bipartisan compromise that brought all kinds of “stakeholders” to the table. This bill is really about sulphide mining, and blocking environmental protections for wild rice waters, it basically sanctions pollution. It’s true that there was some support from a few Northern MN Democrats, but the vote was pretty much party line with Republican support, so “no”, this was not a bipartisan measure. Then some Democrats stood up and pointed out that the people Republicans were claiming to have brought to the table and compromised with were actually never at the table. So a different Republican stood up and “explained” that fact by claiming that none of those people ever showed up in HIS office to complain. So Republicans can claim that there’s no opposition to sulphide mining because nobody showed up at this office to complain? The Republican idea of “compromise” is only talking to people who don’t oppose what your doing… that’s not a new definition of: “compromise”… it’s just NOT compromise.

    It’s not just wild rice and sulphide mining. From opioids to nursing homes Republican legislation was filled with this kind of garbage. They didn’t just zero out transit funding, they zeroed out funding for infrastructure maintenance, apparently the 4th largest road network in the country needs more NEW roads and bridges than it needs to maintain what it already has.

    At another point a Republican stood to defend a bill by claiming that if no one like a bill, that must mean legislators are doing their jobs. Republicans literally believe that it’s their job to deliver a bunch of stuff no one wants, and they think “compromise” it making sure nothing gets done. That’s not a new “look” of compromise, it’s just a failure to govern.

  10. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2018 - 08:53 am.

    Frankly, I’m not looking for compromise

    Compromise is only a viable solution or policy objective when two or more parties can’t agree on the best solution. However, when one party isn’t interested in solutions and is just trying to impose a toxic and disfunctional agenda, compromise is a pathway to failure. Legislation that fails to solve problems, or makes problems worse is a failure of leadership and government whether it’s a product of compromise or not.

    In this session Republicans blocked clear, necessary, and popular legislation for purely ideological reasons. Some of the most outrageous examples were the opioid proposal, distracted driving bills, and elder care nursing home regulation. Minnesotan’s across the board and across party lines demanded action on these issues and Republican leadership simply said: “no”. Distracting driving bills passed several committee votes with large bipartisan majorities and would have passed in the full House and Senate but Kurt Daudt just decided it was the right time and blocked a vote in the House. Abortion bills few around like confetti in a Wall Street parade but Daudt claimed that distracted driving laws were just too divisive at this point. He didn’t exactly that with a straight face… but he said it.

    I think the whole point of government is solve problems and provide services that individuals can’t solve on their own. I think voters want policies that work, they want roads, health care, education, sustainable jobs, and living wages. I don’t see any point in compromising with those who want to block effective leadership and government or nullify the democratic process. From transit to education compromise has simply kept the best and most effective policies off the table for decades, so I don’t want compromise, I want victory. We need to defeat those oppose democracy and effective governance, not compromise with them.

  11. Submitted by Paul Yochim on 05/23/2018 - 09:20 am.

    Compromise to Governor Dayton is when he gets everything he and his supporters want.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2018 - 10:50 am.

      No….

      For 8 years almost EVERY piece of legislation Dayton has signed into law contained stuff he didn’t want, and lacked all kinds of stuff he wanted. Every budget bill he’s signed was a compromise, not once did he get everything he asked for.

      • Submitted by Paul Yochim on 05/23/2018 - 11:10 am.

        You may be right.

        If my memory serves me correctly he wanted more of a prohibitive tax rate increase than he settled for.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2018 - 08:35 am.

          Prohibitive tax rate increases?

          Yes, Dayton turned Pawlenty’s historically large deficit into a surplus and restored spending on education, health care, and infrastructure. And yes, that kind of fiscal responsibility is prohibited by the magical thinking that dominates the Republican mentality. Republicans always “promise” fiscal responsibility but can only deliver fiscal chaos and crises. Nevertheless Dayton HAS signed several flawed and ill conceived Republican bills into law of the last 8 years as a matter of compromise. He just hasn’t signed ALL of them, and he’s drawn lines when the fiscal irresponsibility was egregiously disproportionate.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 05/24/2018 - 11:34 am.

    Good question

    Don’t think we have answered the compromise question. The situation is always moving, thus perhaps the goal posts are always moving. As articles etc have been high lighting, the “R’s” continue to move their goal posts farther and farther back, and changing the definition of a yard to now = 4 feet. So if you start out with an irrational, immovable, idealistic we win you must lose position, against my rationale, science based, open minded we can all win. Yes, I ‘d be very interested in knowing what then does a fair compromise look like. Hard to have rationale conversations with irrational people.

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