Gov. Mark Dayton stood by his threat Sunday to veto the public schools funding bill, saying he has made his priority of enhanced prekindergarten spending clear for months, and vowing that House Republicans would pay the biggest political cost if it results in a long, messy special session.
"I will, again, I will veto" an education bill if it only includes $400 million in new money for schools, Dayton said in a Sunday afternoon press conference. His pronouncement came after he met separately with GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Leader Tom Bakk.
As of Sunday evening, the school funding bill was still awaiting final decisions and votes by a House-Senate conference committee.
While Daudt and Bakk negotiated the spending levels in the education bill, Dayton said it was what he called "intransigence" among House Republicans standing in the way of a final agreement. Dayton has roughly halved his request for prekindergarten money for public schools, from $348 million to $171 million, but said Republicans prefer to leave $1 billion in state reserves in order that they can push a big tax cut next year.
"I don't know how they look themselves in the mirror," Dayton said. "Republican legislators don't want to give more money to the public schools, so 40,000 Minnesota 4-year-olds have to pay the price for their posturing and calculation."
In addition to $171 million over two years for prekindergarten classics, Dayton has asked for another $550 million in order to give public schools per-pupil aid increases of 1.5 percent in 2016 and again in 2017.
Prior to Dayton's remarks but after the two met, Daudt said Dayton had failed to build the necessary legislative support for his prekindergarten proposal. Bakk said a day earlier that he personally supported Dayton's education spending initiatives but could not get House Republicans to agree.
Dayton also would not commit to signing about a half-dozen other budget bills, saying he has not yet had time to examine their contents in detail.
In order to finish on time, lawmakers must adjourn by midnight on Monday. On the prospect of a special session with construction activity about to expand greatly inside the Capitol, Dayton suggested lawmakers hold it in a tent on the Capitol grounds. A spokesman later said Dayton was not kidding about that.