Gov. Mark Dayton is poised to start striking down Republican-crafted spending bills Friday, as a lengthening stalemate at the Capitol raises the likelihood of a messy end to the legislative session.
Republican House and Senate majorities sent Dayton five large budget bills by Thursday, with another five awaiting legislative votes. But the DFL governor has called the whole package unacceptable, and said Thursday he would start to veto them immediately.
Among the bills on Dayton’s veto list is one of the most controversial proposals of the session: A GOP measure that would undo new sick-leave ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and restrict all cities from passing wage or sick-leave ordinances.
“I think it’s bad policy to take over the decisionmaking authority of local government, which is usually Republican doctrine,” Dayton said. However, he didn’t absolutely foreclose the chance that he would allow the bill to become law as part of a broader deal with Republicans.
Dayton said major philosophical differences separate him from Republicans, whom he accused of giving little thought to the real-world implications of spending cutbacks in areas like health and human services.
“These are just numbers to them,” Dayton said.
In their plan, Republicans use most of a projected $1.65 billion budget surplus to cover about $1.1 billion in tax reductions.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, responded that Dayton’s insistence on point-by-point negotiations on specific provisions was slowing down the whole process of finalizing a two-year state budget with upward of $46 billion in spending.
“The governor needs to give up the reins of going through the budget line by line,” Daudt said. “It can and would and probably should be seen as a delay tactic.”
With talks stalled, Dayton announced that after vetoing the bills Friday morning he’d call a weekend pause to official discussions with Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.
But they will see each other Saturday, when the three men will climb into a boat on the Mississippi near St. Cloud to mark the Minnesota fishing opener. It’s a long-standing tradition, and the participants have generally avoided legislative session talk.
“If Gazelka and the governor start talking numbers, I might swim to shore,” Daudt joked.
Dayton vowed that he, Daudt and Gazelka would avoid work talk on the water.
“I’m going fishing,” he said. “I’ve got major pressure on me to catch a fish.”
When talks begin again in earnest Monday, Dayton and lawmakers will have exactly one week to cut a deal. The deadline to avoid a special legislative session is midnight on May 22; if the budget is not finished by then, the next incentive for Dayton and lawmakers is to avoid a state government shutdown that would begin July 1 in the absence of a spending deal.
Dayton said Thursday he believed the work can get done on time — as long as Republicans are willing to provide more detail about the budget cuts they seek. He also wants them to take out some policy changes tucked amid the lengthy spending bills.
“If we can keep the budget bills for what their intended purpose is, which is the budget, and take all the policy garbage out ... then we’ll get it done,” the governor said. “If they want to drag it out and debate every one of these policy provisions, for whatever reason, I’m very pessimistic.”
Republicans had intended to pass all 10 of their budget plans by Wednesday. But when Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, had to leave St. Paul to be with her gravely ill father, Senate Republicans were left without enough votes to pass any of their bills. The Senate has 34 Republican members and 33 DFLers.
Gazelka said Thursday that he’s unsure when his caucus will be back to full strength. The Senate will likely wait until Monday to finish passing the budget bills, which Gazelka said Dayton plans to veto within two hours of receiving them.
Dayton will lay out his specific problems with the GOP bills in letters that will accompany each veto.
Daudt rejected Dayton’s criticism that Republicans are shorting necessary state programs and services. Budget trims in his party’s plan are aimed at “waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.