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‘Sincere effort’ or cynical ploy? Republican campaign aims to pressure Dayton to sign omnibus, tax conformity bills

A Monday event was the start of what could be a two-week campaign to persuade Dayton to sign two prominent bills that he has said — many times — that he dislikes and will veto. 

House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka speaking to reporters following the end of the 2018 legislative session.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan

Gov. Mark Dayton has given no indication that he could be persuaded to sign the two most wide-ranging bills of the just-completed 2018 Minnesota legislative session.

In fact, he repeatedly gave every indication that he’s going to veto them, the culmination of the battle of wills between himself and the Legislature’s Republican leaders. The so-called mega-omnibus bill (which includes budget items and a lot of policy measures) and the tax conformity bill both include too much stuff he doesn’t like. And attempts by GOP leaders Sunday to make them more palatable to the DFL governor apparently weren’t enough.

“I’ve seen nothing to indicate to me that I would sign either one of them,” Dayton said.

So one might be tempted to ask those same legislative leaders: What part of “no” don’t they understand?

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On Monday, just over 12 hours after they adjourned their session for good — and without any prospect that Dayton would change his mind over convening a special session — GOP leaders from the House and Senate staged a media event at which they declared their best hope to is launch a campaign to persuade the governor to sign the bills.

To that end, they brought up — one-by-one — people from across the state, each with a personal stake in items inside those endangered bills. There was the mother from Nisswa whose daughter was badly injured by a driver with a suspended license who supports increased penalties for such offenses. There was the group-home owner from Chisago who needs increased reimbursements for his workers. There was the technology company owner from St. Paul who wants a tax credit for angel investors. There was the deputy state registrar whose South St. Paul business is in danger unless she gets some reimbursement for costs caused by the state’s troubled MNLARS computer system. And there was the son whose elderly mother died at an assisted living center who wants state oversight of elder care enhanced.

All asked Dayton to sign the bills that contain items they said will address their concerns. “Not everything we want and need is in this bill,” said Kent Edwards, whose mother, Susan Edwards, died at an assisted living center last year. “But it’s a start and it’s a start in the right direction. As a society, we simply cannot be in the same spot a year from now as we are right now.”

The event was the start of what could be a two-week campaign to persuade  Dayton to sign bills that he has said — many times — that he dislikes and will veto. If unsuccessful, his refusal could easily become a November election issue.

As they did in the closing hours of the session, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka urged Dayton to weigh the benefits of the bills vs. his complaints. “I think everyone needs to sit down and spend some time reviewing what’s actually in these bills,” Daudt said. “And that was why it was important for us to bring these people to visit with you today.

“Obviously the governor didn’t get everything he wanted. But he was never going to, right. This is about compromise.”

Gazelka said he has not yet tried to talk to Dayton directly, saying he wanted to let the emotions and tensions of the final weekend cool down. But he said he planned to call the governor soon.

GOP leaders: Bills reflect ‘sincere effort’ to address Dayton’s concerns

Dayton has said he smells politics in the way the bills were crafted, and he may see the sign-the-bills campaign as just more evidence of that. The governor said his veto of a bill to help deputy registrars, for example, came because he wanted additional money to fix the computer system, known as MNLARS, that was the source of the problem. Sunday evening, he repeated his charge that the GOP isn’t sincere in fixing the system’s problems because they want to use it as campaign fodder.

And he said he believes Republicans salted the bills with popular items — such as elder abuse, school safety money and opioid abuse education and treatment — knowing he would veto the bills for other reasons. That way they could accuse him of not responding to those issues, something he called appalling.

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Monday, however, GOP leaders repeated their own contention that they were sincerely trying to make the bills better in the governor’s eyes. One of the last bills passed before session adjourned was a measure to remove a few more items from the mega-omnibus bill that Dayton disfavored. That was in addition to 71 other items that were already removed.

“That shows that we made honest, sincere effort with this governor to put together bills that could be signed, because we knew how important these provisions were,” Daudt said.

Whether the campaign will put pressure on Dayton enough to cause him to reverse course is a big question. Dayton was as unequivocal as he could be in public statements, alleging that the tax bill — something he favors as a way to reconcile state tax code with the post-reform federal code — favors the wealthy and corporations over middle income and poor Minnesotans. He’s also argued that the omnibus bill, which is technically an adjustment to the two-year budget adopted last year, is larded up with policy measures the GOP knew he wouldn’t sign had they arrived individually.

DFL caucus comfortable with stance

The varied interests expressed by the people brought forward Monday illustrates just how complex the bills are. While the state constitution requires that bills only deal with a single subject, recent practice has been to do the opposite: load up single bills with lots of subjects, which then makes it harder for the governor to veto but that also allows leaders to collect votes of legislators who might disfavor some aspect of a single bill but will vote for omnibus because it contains measures they favor.

Dayton isn’t seeking a third term, but the leader of House Democrats, Melissa Hortman — who has high hopes of capturing majority control this fall — didn’t seem concerned by Dayton’s tough stance. Her analysis of the session is similar to Dayton’s, with a message that can easily transform into campaign talking points. “So many things fell by the wayside because of the intransigence of this Republican majority, said Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “They refused to listen to the governor and they listened to special interests.

“Our job is not to pass bills,” she said. “Our job is to get bills signed into law and the governor plays a role in that process. So many things were tied up in one bill destined for a veto.”