Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday took a new tack to get Republican legislative leaders to come back to the negotiating table: singling out tobacco tax cuts that were a part of a GOP tax bill he recently signed.
Flanked by about 40 children in matching anti-tobacco T-shirts, the DFL governor said dropping taxes on cigars and eliminating the state's automatic inflationary tax increase for cigarettes will put more young people at risk of becoming addicted to smoking. He said the potential public-health impact of lowering the tobacco taxes, along with the broader financial implications of the $650 million tax-cut package approved in the recent legislative session, put the state at risk. Those problems, Dayton said, necessitated his line-item veto of the Legislature's funding — and his continuing demands that GOP leaders reconsider bills that have been passed and signed into law.
"This is something I take very seriously," Dayton said of his veto. "This is a very serious action. But the consequences for Minnesota's fiscal stability over the next decade are extremely serious."
Nearly two weeks after Dayton struck the Legislature's funding from the state's next two-year, $46 billion budget, much remains uncertain. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, hired an attorney and announced plans to sue Dayton over the veto, but have not yet filed the lawsuit.
Dayton, the GOP leaders and the Legislature's top DFL members were making plans to meet early next week, but Republicans maintained that they had no intention of renegotiating the tax bill or other topics Dayton wants to address, like teacher licensing rules or driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
Daudt and Gazelka declined to comment Friday on Dayton's remarks on tobacco taxes or renegotiating other issues. Spokespeople for both leaders reiterated that the pair are open to talking to the governor, but not revisiting any matter already signed into law.
Meanwhile, the Legislature is set to run out of funding by later this summer, meaning that 201 lawmakers and several hundred legislative employees would lose their pay and benefits.
The governor echoed comments he made earlier in the week during stops in Rochester and Mankato, where he sought to explain his reasoning for signing the tax-cut package and the other budget bills, even though he objected to some of the provisions they contained. He said he planned to travel to more greater Minnesota cities next week to explain that he agreed to the bills to avoid a government shutdown that would have threatened the pay of thousands of state employees and a wide variety of state operations.
"I signed those bills to protect the services the state of Minnesota provides," he said.
Dayton said he had little choice on the tax bill because Republicans included a key provision to ensure he'd sign it or force a special-session debate: funding for the state Department of Revenue.
But he remained highly critical of a number of items in the bill, and particularly the moves to reduce the maximum tax on cigars from $3.50 to 50 cents and to do away with an automatic inflationary increase on cigarette taxes.
The governor accused Republican lawmakers of "appeasing big tobacco," rather than looking out for public health interests.
The tobacco industry has invested a significant amount of money trying to influence Minnesota politics in recent years. In 2016 and the first two months of 2017, the industry spent $486,000 here, according to documents filed with Attorney General Lori Swanson. That total includes money spent on lobbying at the State Capitol and campaign donations.