ST. PAUL, Minn. — A set of major bills that parcel out money from Minnesota's budget surplus or authorize construction borrowing became law Tuesday as Gov. Mark Dayton signed them in full, foregoing his power to use line-item vetoes to trim them.
Dayton signed a tax bill providing another $103 million in property and business tax cuts on top of earlier rollbacks this session. He approved $303 million in spending on schools, health care workers, broadband technology and other items. And he endorsed a pair of construction bills that contain $1.1 billion worth of projects, which Democrats say will put thousands of people to work.
Dayton coupled the action with a sharp-toned news conference in which he and majority party legislative Democrats previewed their message for this fall's election. Dayton, who is up for re-election, called the last two years of one-party rule at the Capitol some of the most productive in memory.
"We chose to be ambitious. We chose to solve problems," added House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "We have a great story to tell — one of sharp contrast. Minnesotans will choose this fall: a productive Legislature prepared to deliver on their priorities or a return to ideological gridlock that stalled progress in Minnesota."
Republicans hope to make the campaign about restoring a check and balance by urging voters to give them control of the House and the governor's office, opposite a Democratic-led Senate that isn't on this year's ballot.
"The reality is if Democrats continue to have a majority in the House, we'll continue to see backroom deals and a lack of interest in what the other half of Minnesotans think," said Assistant House Minority Leader Kelby Woodard, R-Belle Plaine. "The fact is they went whole-hog on taxes. They went whole-hog on spending."
Taxes went up on the wealthy, on smokers and on corporations by a combined $2.1 billion a year ago to help plug a budget deficit and pay for new spending on schools and other programs. By near-unanimous votes this year, the Legislature cut or repealed a total of $550 million in taxes by tapping into a $1.2 billion budget surplus.
Dayton said most people will experience tax breaks as a result of the last two sessions because property tax refund programs were augmented and new credits were made available on the income tax side.
"The average Minnesotan has come out very well from a tax standpoint," he said.
While the state added $150 million to a rainy day reserve, the bulk of the surplus was turned back as tax relief or new spending. The governor previously called the spending levels "excessive" but said he chose not to strike individual items as he could have.
"I decided that, in the spirit of a good session and collaboration, it would be better if I go along with what was decided," Dayton said.
Dayton has until the end of May to act on two dozen legislative bills that remain. Other major bills include legalization of medical marijuana, which he intends to sign, and a measure revoking some of the Minnesota Lottery online games, which he said he remains torn over.