With five weeks left until the Minnesota Legislature adjourns, Gov. Mark Dayton warned Republican lawmakers on Monday that he's unwilling to negotiate over their proposed budget reductions unless they provide more specifics about the programs and services that would see cuts.
Writing to House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, the DFL governor called on the GOP leaders to avoid the type of "chaotic conclusion" that ended the state's last budget-setting process, in 2015. The Legislature and the governor are entering the last stages of finalizing the next two-year budget plan, and there are deep divides between Dayton and Republican majorities over the prospect of tax cuts, program reductions, or expanded spending on areas like education and transportation.
To underscore his point, Dayton attached 55 separate letters from his department commissioners. Each outlined specific concerns about Republican budget plans, which prioritize tax cuts and include reductions for state agencies to help fund those cuts.
"With a $1.5 billion remaining budget surplus projected for the next biennium, we reject the notion that services to Minnesotans should be arbitrarily reduced," Dayton wrote.
Lawmakers are starting to refine the massive omnibus budget bills passed in the House and Senate in recent weeks into final proposals that will be sent to the governor. The budgets proposed by Dayton and both chambers of the Legislature outline more than $40 billion in spending for the next two years.
The Senate plan would put about $900 million toward tax cuts or credits, while the House proposes $1.35 billion in tax reductions. Both provide less funding for state government than Dayton's plan, which includes new spending on priorities like transportation and education, particularly in expanded prekindergarten programs.
Concerns raised in the commissioners' letters include significant staff cuts, delays and added expenses for business permitting, reductions in environmental cleanups, fish and wildlife habitat area management, major reductions to public health programs and limited funding for rural broadband, among other issues.
Republicans have said their plans aim to cut back on years of spending growth in government agencies. Daudt, who has criticized Dayton for not finding room for savings in state budgets, said in a statement that the Legislature has "moved quickly to pass our budget nearly a month earlier than previous years," and was anticipating refining the budget plans with the Dayton administration in upcoming conference committee hearings.
"We look forward to working through our differences and reaching agreement with the governor during that open, transparent process," he said.