Union debate grips Minnesota Capitol, but budget measures squeaking by

Leaders working on budget measures; $15.7 billion education bill approved.

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DFL Majority Leader Erin Murphy talked quietly with GOP Minority Leader Kurt Daudt while debate raged over day care unionization.

Photo: GLEN STUBBE • gstubbe@startribune.com,

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A marathon legislative debate continued to grip the Minnesota Legislature on Sunday as Democrats edged closer to passing what stands to be a dramatic expansion of union power in the state.

Amid thundering chants of “We’re still here,” House members began the debate in the wee hours Sunday morning, breaking for a few hours after dawn, then dragging themselves back to engage in some of the most fiery debate of the session.

“This is nothing more than union payback at the cost of low-income families,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

Democrats engaged GOP rivals in a point-by-point debate on more than 100 amendments that is expected to stretch 17 hours and had not wrapped up by press time.

“Society does not value the work or the labor provided to the children or the work provided to take care of the elderly,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township. “Yes, workers should have a chance to decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to bargain collectively.”

The unionization debate is now the ribbon threading legislators through the final hours before Monday night’s mandatory adjournment. House members broke from the debate periodically to address crucial budget and taxing measures, but were expected to return to the union fight for another all-night session. Bleary-eyed legislative leaders also were holding last-ditch meetings behind the scenes, trying to cobble together a stripped-down state borrowing package.

With velocity increasing and time running short, Democrats began ditching hotly debated measures that were gumming up the chances for a timely end. Raises for legislators, a new metro sales tax and a gas tax hike were all left for dead by Sunday night.

DFL legislative leaders cut a budget deal with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton over the past week and are racing to pass billions of dollars in spending measures that adhere to that agreement.

The Senate granted final passage to a $15.7 billion education funding bill that will give most parents access to free, all-day kindergarten beginning next year.

The 41-26 vote sent the measure to Dayton for his signature. The proposal is the largest share of the state budget and a top priority of DFL leaders.

The bill includes $485 million in new education spending and $40 million to boost scholarships for lower-income families who want to send their children to high-quality preschools, a $40 million increase in special-education aid, and an increase in basic classroom funding.

Democrats are also ending the high-stakes high school graduation tests known as the GRAD tests, and are raising the age at which students can drop out to 17 from 16.

“This is a great bill that has reform, puts us on a path for each Minnesota student to be successfully ready for college and career as part of the world’s best workforce,” said Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, chair of the E-12 Finance Division.

Republicans accused Democrats of throwing money at a broken system.

“When are we going to get down the business of making sure we are educating kids?” responded Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “When are we going to get off the idea that somehow spending money equates to that?”

Eyeing Capitol repairs

Legislative leaders met privately, seeking a last-minute deal on a state-backed borrowing proposal, which Democrats say will create thousands of jobs.

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