Gov. Mark Dayton signed a $2.1 billion tax bill into law Thursday, along with a host of other bills passed in the final hours of the session.
Along with the new tax bill - which includes a $1.60-per-pack hike in cigarette taxes and tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans -- Dayton also signed off on the massive $11.3 billion Health and Human Services budget, a jobs bill, the veterans services budget and a host of other provisions passed in the final days of the legislative session.
Other provisions signed into law Thursday afternoon included: the omnibus data practices bill; the public safety finance bill; the omnibus retirement bill; the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance and Policy bill, the transportation finance bill, and changes to state elections policies.
Gov. Mark Dayton is facing a Minnesota electorate that is split on how well he is doing his job.
According to a new Public Policy Polling poll, completed just before the legislative session concluded on Monday, 49 percent of Minnesotans give him high approval rating and 47 percent give him failing marks. Those numbers are significantly down from January, when 53 percent of Minnesotans approved of the job he was doing and 39 percent did not.
Despite Minnesotans mixed feelings about the governor, they still favor him over potential Republican challengers. He has double digit leads in head to head match ups against 2010 opponent Tom Emmer and Republican candidates Scott Honour and Jeff Johnson. He has similar leads over Republicans Julie Rosen, David Hann, Dave Thompson and Kurt Zellers, all of whom have said they are considering a run.
Democrats can find other good news in the poll.
It found that both DFL and GOP legislators are more unpopular than popular but Republicans are even less popular than Democrats. According to the poll, 36 percent of Minnesotans approve of DFL lawmakers and 23 percent approve of Republicans. The DFL also has a narrow lead on a generic legislative ballot.
The poll also found that Minnesotans continue to be split on same sex marriage with 49 percent supporting and 45 percent opposing. The Legislature and Dayton legalized same sex marriage this year.
On other legislative issues:
The poll included 38 percent Democrats; 27 percent Republicans and 35 percent independents but more people in the poll -- 38 percent -- described themselves as conservative than liberal -- 32 percent.
The poll had a margin of sampling error of 3.7 percent.
Gov. Mark Dayton struck out millions of dollars in disputed funding for Metro parks before signing the new Legacy budget into law.
"This decision is extremely difficult for me," Dayton wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders Thursday. "I attach great importance to keeping my word. Unfortunately, in this instance, I have given contradictory assurances to legislators during the past few days and to thousands of Minnesotans during the past few years. I have decided that I must honor my promise to those citizens."
The $494 million Legacy omnibus pitted lawmakers against the state's Outdoor Heritage Council and other groups. Lawmakers voted to steer $6.3 million to the Metropolitan Council for grants to restore and endangered habitats and another $3 million to battle aquatic invasive species, even though those projects had not been vetted by the council.
The merits of the projects weren't in question, but the way they found their way into the bill brought sharp criticism from outdoor and sporting groups, who feared the Legislature would begin loading future Legacy bills with pork projects.
In a letter to the governor, council member Ron Schara warned: "Funding the metro parks project in this way would set a very bad precedent. Instead of competing before the Council, special interests will bombard the Legacy legislative committees with projects that waste taxpayer dollars and we will end up with one big pork bill. If you do not put things right, the sportsmen will never again believe that it is in their interest to support a tax raise as a way to fund outdoor habitat programs. As the pressure on outdoor habitat increases and the funds dry up, we will all lose."
Dayton said he only agreed to allow the disputed provisions into the final version of the Legacy bill in an effort to break an end-of-session deadlock between House and Senate negotiators.
"At the time, I hoped that the thousands of Minnesotans, who are deeply committed to the work of the Lessard-Sams Council, would accept our compromise," Dayton wrote. "Since the bill's passage, however, I have heard from many organizations, representing thousands of citizens, who believe my approval of those two items would betray the promises I have made repeatedly during the past four years to respect the council's decisions."
Dayton noted that Metro parks are already $65 million from the Legacy bill, which also includes more than $18 million to deal with aquatic invasive species.
The group that successfully pushed to legalize same-sex marriage in Minnesota raised more than $2 million for its Capitol lobbying effort.
The money went to organize people to contact their legislators and about $500,000 went for advertising, Minnesotans United said.
Campaign manager Richard Carlbom said the group's fund-raising success came from the fact that “everyday Minnesotans wanted to secure the freedom to marry.”
The group’s effort was among the most intense of the legislative session, which concluded Monday. It is also likely to be one of the most well-funded lobbying efforts at the Capitol this year.
In January, some DFL legislative leaders wanted to wait until next year to push for same-sex marriage. But the relentless effort by Minnesotans United culminated in two dramatic floor votes to pass the proposal. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton signed the measure last week in a historic outdoor bill signing.
The group that tried to block same-sex marriage, Minnesota for Marriage, declined to release its fund-raising numbers.
Minnesota for Marriage pushed for a constitutional amendment blocking same-sex marriage, which voters rejected in November. The effort by Minnesotans United to legalize same-sex marriage spawned out of the group's victory defeating the amendment.
The National Organization for Marriage, a main backer of the Minnesota effort to block same-sex marriage, simply did not have the money to spend in Minnesota this year, an official said. NOM had been fighting similar marriage–related battles in several other states.
“There wasn’t the money. There weren’t the resources,” said Frank Schubert, national political director for NOM. “The cupboards were bare, or more than bare.”
Same-sex marriage becomes legal in Minnesota Aug. 1.
Minnesotans United has now created a political-action group to raise money to support candidates who voted to legalize same-sex marriage.
How do you thank Minnesota taxpayers for a half-billion dollar gift?
Mayo Clinic does it with balloon bouquets, hand-lettered thank-you signs, and a choreographed cheering section.
"DMC! DMC!" happy Mayo staffers chanted Wednesday, after state lawmakers signed off on a plan to support Mayo's new Destination Medical Center project with some $585 million in state and local tax support over the next three decades. The cheers got louder as Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers took the stage in Rochester to accept the thanks.
Dayton said passage of the "enormous, almost unprecedented" development project a "glorious day" for the state and the community. Other massive spending projects, like the Vikings stadium, took years, but the half-billion dollar Mayo bill passed in the space of a single session
"What a great day," said House Speaker Paul Thissen. The fact that the Legislature was able to sign off on such a massive project so quickly, he said, proves that "people working together and a community working together with the state government can actually accomplish something. I think that was a hallmark of what this last legislative session was about."
The Rochester celebration also drew Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk -- "What a difference an election makes," he told the crowd -- House Majority Leader Erin Murphy and members of the local delegation, including Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, and Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who was the only Republican to vote for the Destination Medical Center plan after it was wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill.
The Mayo funds, wrapped into a $2 billion tax bill, will steer $585 million to Rochester to support infrastructure improvements around the new downtown development. The state will chip in $372 million over the next 27 years, but only after Mayo, the city of Rochester and Olmstead County make substantial investments of their own. Mayo has pledged billions to the project — $3.5 billion of its own money and another $2 billion in private investments.
"We're the land of 10,000 lakes and 14,000 physicians," joked Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, who guided the Mayo bill through a rocky session. "I am so excited to see what happens next."
What happens next will be decided over the next few months. The Destination Medical Center's new governing board will come together and begin deciding which projects will be built first. No state tax dollars will flow until at least $200 million in private investment have been poured into the project.
The to-do list includes everything from expanding the Mayo campus to upgrading the downtown with new hotels, restaurants and cultural attractions.
The Mayo bill took a beating from skeptical lawmakers, particularly after Mayo CEO John Noseworthy warned that if Minnesota didn't come up with the money, there were 49 other states that would be happy to open their doors to Mayo. Dayton rose to Noseworthy's defense Wednesday.
"You got criticized unfairly for this. I get criticized unfairly by the Legislature every day" Dayton said. "But there are 49 other states that would really love to have this opportunity." As the crowd in the Mayo lobby applauded and laughed, he added, "It's the truth. We are incredibly fortunate to have Mayo here."
Noseworthy thanked lawmakers for doing what many thought could not be done -- passing the expensive, complex Destination Medical Center financing bill in a single session. And since the Legislature came through for Mayo, he said, Mayo plans to stay right here in Rochester.
"It's a great day to be a Minnesotan, a great day to call Rochester our home," Noseworthy said. "Based on this legislation, Mayo Clinic is prepared to invest in Minnesota, where we've been for 149 years, and now we'll be even stronger, for generations to come."