Gov. Mark Dayton signed four bills Friday that together lay out nearly $25 billion in state spending over the next two years, even as he began a public-relations pitch aimed at convincing state legislators to go along with a higher spending increase on schools than the one he vetoed a day earlier.
The DFL governor gave final approval to major spending bills for health and human services, higher education, transportation, and public safety and courts.
A short while later, he was at an Apple Valley elementary school, mixing with 4-year-olds, their teachers and school administrators as he tries to build support for more state spending on early-learning programs than House Republicans have so far been willing to grant.
“I’d like to get that on video and make all 202 of us watch it,” Dayton said, referring to himself and 201 legislators, after about 45 minutes in a prekindergarten classroom.
Dayton’s inability to convince legislators to back an education spending increase to a level he considers acceptable left the legislative session unresolved and heading for a special session.
The governor said Friday that he hopes to hold the special session by June 15.
On Friday, several House Republican legislators from the area joined Dayton at Westview Elementary. Reps. Tara Mack and Anna Wills, both of Apple Valley, mingled with the kids alongside Dayton, and they joined him afterward for a short discussion with local administrators and teachers.
Dayton has tried to put pressure on House Republicans in the current standoff, arguing that they prefer to leave state money unspent this year instead of sending it to schools in order to have more money available next year for some type of tax cut.
Wills and Mack argued that they, too, are committed to public schools. Mack said her own young children would be attending Westview in a couple of years.
“We’re looking at a way we can provide a preschool solution that will work across the state,” Wills said. “There’s some disagreements on how we should get there, but let’s see if we can find a way to bridge that gap and reach these kids.
Of the four bills Dayton signed Friday, the $12 billion health and human services (HHS) budget was the second-largest budget bill after the vetoed $17 billion education bill. The HHS bill includes about $138 million more meant to bolster pay for nursing-home workers, a major priority of House Republicans.
The public safety and judiciary bill included an additional $111 million in spending for courts and public safety, as well as a measure legalizing firearm suppressors — more commonly known as “silencers.” That provision had earned an earlier veto warning from Dayton, but the final version included a system of law enforcement oversight for the devices.
The public safety deal includes pay raises for judges, more staffing for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and funding to combat sex trafficking and to prevent recruitment of Minnesotans to terror organizations like ISIL and Al-Shabab.
No felon voting rights
A push to restore voting rights to felons after they are released from incarceration did not make it into the final bill.
But the House and Senate did toughen drunken-driving laws. They compromised on automatic license-plate readers, allowing law enforcement authorities to store data gleaned from the devices for 60 days.
The higher education budget includes $166 million in new spending, with $53 million for the University of Minnesota. Of that, $30 million will go toward the U’s Medical School. The Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system received $100 million in the budget the Legislature approved.
The bare-bones transportation measure maintains spending on roads and bridges at current levels, but makes few new investments. Legislators said they plan to pick up debate on a more-robust budget next year.
Stiffer texting penalties
Of note: Penalties for repeat violations of the state’s law against texting while driving will increase. While a first-offense fine is $50, the penalty for a second violation will now be $225.
That leaves just three measures for Dayton’s approval or rejection: budget bills for state agencies, agricultural and environmental programs, and a jobs and energy bill that was rammed through in the Legislature’s closing minutes.
Dayton is expected to decide on those final bills on Saturday.
Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.