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Dayton follows through on veto threat, rejecting education budget bill

After days of promising a veto, Gov. Mark Dayton on Thursday formally rejected the education budget bill because of the lack of funds for universal prekindergarten, among other priorities. 

Dayton said the $17.1 billion education bill the Legislature approved Monday did not fund his top priority of universal access to preschool for all of the state's 4-year-olds. It also did not provide funding for the elimination of a Head Start waiting list, additional funding for the Northside Achievement Zone and the St. Paul Promise Neighborhood. 

Dayton will be calling legislators back for a special session, likely not before early June. If no agreement is reached on public schools funding, state officials warn that the Department of Education would be shut down, causing mass layoffs. 

House Education Finance Chair Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, in a statement expressed disappointment at the veto.  

"Our education budget was the picture of bipartisanship – where both sides came together to do what is right for our youngest Minnesotans,” Loon said. “I am disappointed that Governor Dayton is forcing a special session over an education bill that garnered such strong support from both sides of the aisle and made a significant financial commitment to our students.”

Dayton will meet with House GOP leadership on Tuesday to begin negotiations over the pending special session. The DFL governor said Wednesday that the scope of the special session will be narrow, and he hasn't yet indicated whether he might veto other budget bills that he is reviewing. 

Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto says hurried new bill would leave counties without an auditor

State Auditor Rebecca Otto, whose office audits 59 of 87 Minnesota counties among other responsibilities, said a technical glitch in the state government finance bill that passed in the final hours of the legislative session could leave those counties without any auditing.  

The intent of one section of the bill, which runs to more than 90 pages, was to allow counties to hire private auditing firms to complete the required review of their accounting and finances. By doing so, they would opt out of the current system wherein they pay the state auditor to complete their audit. 

The section of the bill that allows for private audits says it takes effect August 1, 2016. Meanwhile, Otto said she's been advised by her counsel that the bill would repeal a current section of law that gives Otto her auditing authority, but would do so immediately. Otto said this would prevent her office from conducting any audits beginning July 1. 

In other words, there would be a one-year gap wherein counties could not use Otto or a private company to audit their books. This would be especially problematic for counties her office has already begun to audit for a Sept. 30 deadline whose programs could lose federal funding without proper auditor sign-off. 

"It's a total mess," she said. 

The crafters of the measure to allow counties to seek a private auditor say counties can save money by using private auditors, as is currently the case with 28 counties, including Hennepin County. A partial privatization measure was adopted in 2003. 

Otto, who is engaged in a furious lobbying effort to get Gov. Mark Dayton to veto the bill, said her office can better protect taxpayers and taxpayer dollars than private firms without proper oversight. 

Dayton has thus far declined to commit to signing or vetoing the bill. 

The Star Tribune left a message for a chief author of the bill, Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. 

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