A major fault line between Republicans and the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton revealed itself today in a House committee, where Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, began hearing testimony on his major environment budget bill.
The heads of four state agencies with responsibility for protecting Minnesota's environment stated their opposition to the bill, saying it would fund their agencies in part by shifting money from special cleanup funds.
McNamara, the Republican chairman of the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee, alleged that the agency heads were not being transparent about administration pots of money.
"My frustration is I don't know what's in the bill!" he exclaimed in the hearing room, packed with lobbyists, activists and agency staff.
The bill also includes a number of contentious policy changes opposed by the Dayton administration, including provisions that would give the Legislature the power to approve or disapprove new environmental regulations.
The committee will continue to hear testimony this week and will likely pass the bill to the full House.
Gov. Mark Dayton visited Expo Elementary School in St. Paul today to highlight his ambitious prekindergarten agenda, even as the Legislature seems poised to scale it back.
Dayton has proposed using some of the state's nearly $2 billion surplus to spend $348 million on a universal pre-K plan that would also eliminate the Head Start waiting list of 2,500 and provide scholarships for at-risk children between infancy and three years old.
Dayton said pre-K and education more generally is his number one priority this session. He said he has adjusted his increase of the school funding formula from 1 to 1.5 percent.
The universal part of his prekindergarten plan seems likely to be cut back. Members of the Republican-controlled House have not included it in their budget targets, and a Senate education budget bill provides for scholarships rather than universal pre-K.
The Minnesota Department of Education estimates a universal approach would reach 50,000 children, whereas a scholarship approach to needy children would reach 20,000 kids.
Dayton kept the attention of the children in part by showing them photos of his dogs on his phone.
Gov. Mark Dayton delivers his fifth State of the State speech, and first of his second term, before a crowd of state lawmakers and other officials Thursday night in the House chamber.
Dayton said last week that his 7 p.m. speech would likely run about 30 minutes. He's expected to put a particular emphasis on what's become his signature proposal of the 2015 session, a multimillion dollar spending boost for early learning programs including universal preschool at Minnesota public schools.
Dayton will have a number of guests watching the speech at his invitation, including former Gov. Wendell Anderson, his son Eric Dayton; Ibrahim Mohamed, a Dayton appointee to the Metropolitan Airports Commission who drives a luggage cart at the Twin Cities airport; a father and daughter from Maxfield Elementary whom Dayton met on a visit to the school; a preschool teacher from Newport Elementary School; Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle, and the U of M and MnSCU chancellors.
Dayton's speech will be streamed live at Startribune.com. Political reporters Abby Simons and Patrick Condon will be tweeting about the speech at @ajillsimons and @patricktcondon. A full story about the speech will be posted online and published in Friday's newspaper.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said if a bonding bill emerges from the Legislature this year, it will be modest, despite Gov. Mark Dayton's proposal today for nearly $850 million in bonding for infrastructure and other construction projects.
"That's not the real work of this session," said Bakk, a Cook Democrat. "(Bonding) is generally done in the even-numbered years. The budget is our priority this session," he said. He acknowledged bonding bills in odd-numbered years but noted their modest size compared to even-numbered years.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt said today House Republicans have no plans on a bonding bill.
Any bonding would start in the House as instructed by the Constitution, Bakk said. In case the House Republican majority changes course, Bakk said he has instructed Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, to prepare a potential bill that would include money for the universities, wastewater infrastructure, housing and local roads and bridges, among other areas. He said the Senate bonding proposal would likely be more than recent odd-numbered year bonding bills of about $150 million, but less than Dayton's proposal.
(This post has been updated)
Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday called for $842 million in public-oriented construction projects, saying the debt the state would incur to bankroll them is worth the economic jolt it would provide.
"My proposal would put thousands of Minnesotans to work throughout our state," Dayton said at a Capitol news conference, laying out a hefty wishlist that includes money for college campuses, local economic development projects, rail and pipeline safety initiatives, workforce housing, the State Capitol renovation, to replace the visitor center at Fort Snelling and dozens of other projects.
A complete list of Dayton's proposed projects can be found at this link. A map of the projects and regional breakdowns can be found here. Citing an academic analysis, Dayton's administration said enacting his entire proposal would create 23,900 jobs in Minnesota.
Legislative tradition, and reluctance among House Republicans, means a tough road ahead for Dayton's construction plan.
Lawmakers frequently note that large bonding bills have more often been passed in even-numbered years of the two-yaer legislative cycle, after lawmakers dispense with the state budget in odd-numbered years.
But Dayton noted that has been far from a hard and fast rule. He said research by his staff showed that lawmakers have approved some level of bonding in 31 of the last 32 years, and said the state's good economic circumstances justify an ambitious approach to construction.
"I think this is a perfect opportunity. Interest rates are low, we have a budget surplus, and there are all these projects backed up," Dayton said. He said the $842 million project list was whittled down from $1.9 billion in requests.
But that's not a hard and fast rule. Dayton in particular has been an advocate of frequent and sizable bonding bills, arguing that the civic centers, campus buildings, public works upgrades and other physical improvements they bring to communities help foster local economic activity.
As he has previously House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Tuesday said the House was not likely to take up a bonding bill this year. Having just seized the House majority last fall, Daudt said, Republicans have not had sufficient time to fully vet nearly $2 billion in bonding requests.
House Republicans also want to leverage the state's debt capacity to cover some costs of their transportation plan, their current strategy is to push through that portion of funding next year.
Since bonding bills originate in the House, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, has said the Senate is likely to follow the House's lead. Still, Bakk said prior to the legislative break that Senate DFLers might still assemble a bonding proposal.
Bonding bills are unusual in that issuing debt on the state's behalf requires votes of three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate. That makes bipartisan cooperation necessary.