Gov. Mark Dayton and state lawmakers struck a final deal Thursday night to finish the state budget, setting the table for a Friday special session where approval of money for environmental and agricultural programs is still in doubt.
In an evening meeting, Dayton personally lobbied Senate DFLers to vote for a $190 million environment-agriculture budget bill. Many remain strongly opposed to the measure, which they say weakens environmental protections. After a four-hour meeting with his colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he could not guarantee the bill’s passage.
“I don’t know if it’s going to pass,” said Bakk, DFL-Cook. “I just don’t know.”
Dayton said earlier in the evening he would call the session once all four top legislative leaders signed an agreement setting the ground rules for what they hope will be a one-day meeting. Bakk was the last to sign that agreement, and shortly after 11 p.m. Dayton issued his proclamation for a session beginning at 10 a.m.
GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who with Dayton negotiated the final budget bills after Dayton vetoed nearly half the state budget following the regular session last month, was first to sign the agreement for Friday’s special session.
“I think folks are ready to come in and get these bills passed,” Daudt said.
It became increasingly clear Thursday that the controversial environment budget bill was struggling to gain the necessary support in the Senate. Only 10 DFL senators, most of them Bakk allies, voted for the original vetoed bill. The bill will need 34 Senate votes to pass.
Republican support for the bill appeared to be dwindling too. Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said Thursday morning he has only 10 votes in support of the bill, not enough if the same group of DFL senators vote no a second time.
“Without help from Sen. Hann, I don’t believe it will pass,” Bakk said.
‘We’re not ready’
Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights, said she was unlikely to vote for the environment bill despite personal pleas from Dayton.
“There’s just so much garbage in those bills,” Goodwin said before meeting with the governor. “He’s not going to shove it down our throats, that’s for sure. I think we have to go back to the drawing board.”
Sen. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada, said Dayton should relent and listen to the 29 senators — all DFLers — who voted against the environmental bill. She expressed dismay at how legislators have been largely left out of budget negotiations, and said Dayton has struggled to hold the line against GOP policies that members of his party oppose.
“People have forgotten that he wanted to have a robust transportation bill,” Scalze said. “He gave up on that. Then he wanted to have pre-K for 4-year-olds. He gave up on that. Then he didn’t want to have the auditor’s office gutted. He gave up on that. So it’s kind of like, ‘Let’s roll the Senate environmental people and the governor and we’ll get our way.’ ”
Dayton, in an effort to avoid the third state government shutdown in a decade, vociferously opposed allowing legislators to amend the pending budget bills. He said he would have “zero tolerance” for attempts to slow down the special session, and he threatened to campaign against legislators in their districts if they oppose his efforts for a fast-tracked solution.
Accountable to constituents
DFL senators left quickly after their caucus meeting broke up about 10 p.m. Several indicated they wouldn’t back down even if it means the environmental bill fails. While a tiny fraction of the overall $42 billion, two-year state budget, the bill’s failure in special session would leave standing concerns of possible state park closures and other consequences when the new state fiscal year begins July 1.
Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said the shutdown threat might incentivize her colleagues to sign off on Dayton’s demands.
“The Senate doesn’t want a government shutdown,” she said.
Asked if she was willing to defy the governor, fellow DFLer Sen. Kathy Sheran of Mankato said: “The person I’m accountable to is the person who votes in my Senate district. My responsibility is to them, and that’s who I’m beholden to. He can twist my arm, though. I’m always open to listening to what he has to say.”
Difficult for DFL senators
Dayton left the meeting with senators saying he would not comment on the content of the discussion. In recent days he has shifted from a few lingering demands to putting a strong premium on finishing legislative business well ahead of July 1.
“It’s over for this round,” Dayton said Thursday morning.
Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, voted against the environment budget bill its first time through. But he signaled that he was more open to the governor’s case. Hoffman said he won office in 2012 in part by making an issue of the government shutdown that occurred on the Republican incumbent’s watch.
“Follow the governor,” Hoffman said. “The guy’s been in there making these decisions.”