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.
A group of 15 House Republicans is calling on DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to use his line-item veto power to nix money for Twin Cities parks.
The DFL-controlled Legislature approved the millions for outdoor, cultural and arts Legacy fund projects, including $6.3 million for Twin Cities area parks.
Republicans contend the parks money was not among the recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which advises how a portion of the money is spent.
“We request you line-item veto the provision that dedicates money to the Metro Area parks,” legislators wrote.
Dayton’s staff said the governor is reviewing the measure newly passed by the Legislature and will decide the fate of the money soon.
In the final hours of the legislative session, the Minnesota House and Senate passed a scaled-down bonding bill.
With just hours to go before the midnight end of the session deadline, the House began debate on a bill that will fund $176 million worth of projects around the state. Those projects include repairs to the aging State Capitol, flood mitigation efforts and the next stage of a major expansion for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis.
"We will get thouands and thousands of construction workers off the bench" with this bill, said Rep. John Ward, DFL-Baxter.
The bill passed the House by a vote of 121-10 Monday evening. Minutes later, the Senate took the bill up without debate and passed it 57-6.
An $800 million bonding bill failed in the House last week. The Senate proposed a much smaller version, with only enough money to repair the Capitol and build a new parking structure. The House refused to concur with the Senate's proposal, but after a tense daylong standoff, it rolled out a bill of its own.
The new bill includes $109 million for the Capitol renovation, $22 million for the new parking garage, $20 million for flood mitigation, $19 million for the Minnesota Veterans Home in Minneapolis, which needs state backing for the next stage of a major renovaiton and expansion of its facility.
Capitol administrators had warned that if repair funding fell through this year, the project would have been set back two years, at a cost of millions more to the state.
"Our beautiful Capitol can finally get the long-term commitment it deserves," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. "For years, its needs were shoved aside by politics, misplaced priorities and tight budgets. Tonight we rise above all that to do something right for the People's House. This building has no lobbyist to shill for it. It has us, and we must not let it down."
Over the weekend, heavy rains flooded one of the tunnels under the Capitol, highlighting the 108-year-old building's deteriorating condition.
"This Capitol is a 108-year-old building that's an iconic building for the state of Minnesota, but it is at its tipping point," Ward said. "Unfortunately, we saw some of that this week."
But for every project that made it into the final bonding bill, dozens more were cut, to the dismay of some lawmakers.
"What concerns me is what's not in this bill," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul.
His district was counting on the bonding bill to save a magnet school in his district. Crosswinds School, an arts and science school for children in grades 6-10, was hoping for bonding authorization to turn governance of the school over to the Perpich Center for the Arts.
"Unless we act, that state asset, which was built to educate kids of the East Metro Area in an integrated setting, is going to get mothballed," Mariani said.
Ward said the House had to disappoint a lot of communities to put together a bill that could pass on short notice.
"There's a lot of things in this bill that people are missing, from every corner of this state," Ward said. "From wastewater to ther veterans to roads and bridges to higher ed....When it gets down to the end of the session and you're still trying to do something good for the citizens of Minnesota, you do lose some stuff."
"While my heart aches for that facility," he added. "This is what we could come up with."