With vetoes Wednesday of the year’s major tax and spending bills, Gov. Mark Dayton nullified much of the work of the 2018 Legislature — ensuring that this year’s session will rank among the least productive in Minnesota annals.
The DFL governor’s vetoes tear down bills fashioned by the Republican-controlled Legislature and sent to his desk despite his objections to their contents, after a session that saw very little of the usual face-to-face negotiation among legislative and executive branch leaders. For weeks, Dayton declared his willingness to reject those bills if his objections to their contents were ignored. In that sense, the vetoes are not a surprise.
But in another sense, the vetoes are jarring. They reveal a deepening slide into dysfunction by an institution that through most of state history has been a force for good in Minnesotans’ lives. The habit of turning to state government for help in solving shared problems is deeply ingrained in Minnesotans. As state government becomes unreliable, that habit is breaking, with worrisome consequences.
The vetoes are particularly disappointing to Minnesotans who stood to benefit from provisions in one or both of the bills. Republicans were ready with a list of victims moments after the vetoes were announced. Among them: schools seeking more funds for safety measures; disabled people and their home- and community-based caregivers, who were looking to the Legislature to undo a looming 7 percent funding cut; deputy registrars, who have endured losses because of defects in the new electronic vehicle registration system; and election administrators seeking to access federal funds to upgrade election system security.
But the vetoed bills were themselves disappointing, both for what they contained and for what they did not. It’s telling that in the days since the Legislature’s 12 a.m. Monday adjournment, advocates for measures both to combat opioid addiction and to protect vulnerable adults from abuse — two of the year’s top priorities — called for Dayton to veto the omnibus spending bill. In both cases, legislative concessions to the affected industries had weakened the final measures.
That bill’s 985-page bulk was also a problem. Dayton — whose list of objections last week ran to 19 pages — repeatedly asked the Legislature to send him stand-alone bills on which broad agreement existed. The Legislature’s refusal to do so deserves to be called into question — as does its willingness to run roughshod over the Minnesota Constitution’s single-subject rule.
The tax bill, too, was a blend of good and bad features that might have improved if genuine give-and-take negotiations had shaped its final form. We think Dayton should have signed that bill to avoid the costly confusion and uncertainty — and, for some lower-income filers, the tax increase — that will follow from a failure to conform state tax laws to the recent federal changes.
But it must be noted that the vetoed bill included a series of cuts in state individual and corporate income tax rates that would not have been fully realized in the state budget until 2022-23, when they would have cut state revenues by an estimated $565 million. That’s a risky cut that future legislators would have been hard-pressed to reverse. It amounted to this year’s Legislature attempting to impose its will on a future one, and giving tax relief an automatic first claim over all other demands on future state budgets.
The Legislature’s response to Dayton’s call for a one-time boost in K-12 school funding was unsatisfying. It involved taking $50 million from the state’s reserve — never advisable during good economic times — and giving districts permission to raid funds set aside for staff development and community education. New money targeted to districts in financial distress would have been preferable.
Wednesday’s veto leaves just one of the year’s three major bills still standing — a bonding bill. It’s barely more than half of the $1.5 billion Dayton recommended in general obligation bonds, though it includes highway bonds and higher-interest appropriation bonds for a grand total near the governor’s. Dayton should sign that measure. The fact that so many other Minnesota hopes for this year’s session are now dashed makes the projects in that bill all the more important.
More than that: We hope both Dayton and legislators look at the mess that they’ve made of this session with a desire to clean it up. As Dayton and House Speaker Kurt Daudt traded harsh criticism of each other’s performances Wednesday, both all but ruled out a special session. “I will not ask for one,” Daudt said. “The people impacted by these bills will ask.”
So do we, on their behalf.