Minnesotans chose divided government in last year’s election, giving Gov. Mark Dayton a second term while flipping control of the House to Republicans. And division is what they got. Some thought a projected $1.9 billion surplus would make for smooth sailing, but the extra money created a fierce debate about what to do with it. Democrats would spend most of it on schools, while Republicans would give tax cuts. It’s a debate still not settled, and a special session looms.
The Issues: What happened (and didn't)
Budget - PASS
Taxes: DFL scuttled the GOP plan for $2 billion in tax cuts, but there’s $1 billion left over to fight about next time.
The big picture: Minnesota will spend $41.65 billion during the next two years, up 4.85 percent from the previous two.
Drivers: Education and health care, well more than half the state budget, continue to drive costs.
Transportation - FAIL
Nothing doing: Both sides had big multibillion dollar plans, with the DFL pushing a gas tax increase and the GOP wanting to take from the general fund. They couldn’t agree.
Nothing? They did increase the fine for a second offense for texting while driving to $225 and mandated plans to better time city traffic light signals. Gr8!
Environment - UNRESOLVED
Buffers: Dayton and the Republican House compromised on a plan for buffers to protect the state’s waterways from pollutants, but Dayton vetoed the overall bill over other objections.
Citizens be gone: The Pollution Control Agency Citizens’ Board was eliminated, one of many provisions Dayton objected to.
Sunday Liquor - FAIL
Sunday sales: The Sunday sellers got more votes this time and they think they have momentum, but the powerful coalition of liquor stores and cities beat them back again.
Growlers and bloodies: But if you’re desperate, you can now buy a growler of beer on Sunday from a taproom, or start your Sunday right with a bloody mary at 8 a.m. instead of 10.
Education - UNRESOLVED
Universal Pre-K: Unresolved. Dayton is demanding it. The Republican House and DFL Senate declined. To be settled in the upcoming special session.
Teacher seniority: Despite lots of noise on last-in, first-out rules for teacher layoffs, the teachers union beat it back, though anything can be a bargaining chip in a special session.
Criminal Justice - PASS
Protecting privacy: Legislators agreed cops can store location data from license plate readers for 60 days.
No on voting: A bipartisan push for felon voting rights died, but supporters believe they have momentum for next year.
Suppressed: Lawmakers legalized firearm “silencers” like the device above, used as a demonstration during testimony.
Health Care Overhaul - FAIL
MinnesotaCare: The public health insurance program for 90,000 working poor survived a challenge by Republicans.
MNsure too: A task force will decide what to do with the two programs.
Good news: Spinal cord injuries got some research funding.
Miscellany - PASS
Fire retardant no more: After bagpiping in the Capitol hallways, firefighters helped pass the toughest flame retardant ban in the nation because they say the chemicals are unsafe and ineffective.
Shocked! Shocked! The Legislature stopped the State Lottery from selling tickets online, at gas station pumps and ATMs.
Winners and Losers
A rocky start, but in the end, Dayton will get most of what he wanted on schools and possibly prekindergarten.
The powerful teachers union, 70,000-strong, beat back an effort to scrap last-in, first-out rules for layoffs. And, Dayton is going to the mat for universal prekindergarten, likely expanding the ranks of the union even more.
Daudt, Bakk and their alliance
Daudt, a new, fresh-faced House speaker, looked worn during negotiations with Dayton and Bakk, but he cut a deal with the latter to finish on time and fight another day. As for Bakk? The master negotiator got much of what he wanted — again.
Republicans came in with high hopes of doing what they love most: cutting taxes. Despite a $2 billion plan, they wound up with nothing once Bakk demanded his transportation package in exchange. As the adage goes in baseball, wait until next year.
It was supposed to be the session of Greater Minnesota. Republicans flipped 10 seats outstate, but in the end, much didn’t get done. Nursing homes will get a cash infusion. But without a tax or transportation bill, outstate will be without added local government aid or the road construction that creates jobs and pumps money into local economies.
Both parties said transportation was a priority, but neither could agree on a funding mechanism. Senate DFLers wanted a gas tax, which the House GOP said was too onerous. Republicans wanted to tap general funds, which the DFL said was not a long-term solution. Stalemate still on!
Rep. Tony Cornish
The veteran legislator has become the GOP’s go-to guy on crime and guns and showed a willingness to work with DFLers on issues like felon voting rights.
Reps. Greg Davids and Ann Lenczewski
The GOP Taxes Committee chairman and lead DFLer were an odd couple holding a perpetual debating salon, and in the process did the unthinkable: They made tax policy interesting.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski
Known as a bomb-thrower, “Draz” was chairman of the property tax committee, and his signature proposal to eliminate the statewide commercial property tax became the centerpiece of the GOP tax plan, though it did not pass. Observers sensed the rise of a newly seasoned legislator.
“I had a nice turkey dinner, and almost immediately after I began feeling signs of flu, and I was all flued out all day Sunday.”
-- Rep. Ron Erhardt making light of the avian flu epidemic. He later apologized.
“I certainly learned a brutal lesson today, that I can’t trust him, can’t believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back.”
-- Gov. Mark Dayton on his relationship with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk after the two had a falling out over the governor’s cabinet salaries.
“Now a few cities want to say, ‘No, not me. We don’t want to do this.’ Well, bull hockey! That ain’t right. That ain’t fair. That ain’t the way we do things in Minnesota.”
-- Rep. John Persell on a proposal to rein in water regulations.
“I realize they hate the public schools, some of the Republican legislators.”
-- Dayton attacking Republicans for not backing his universal prekindergarten plan.