It was a quick honeymoon -- just 37 days.
The tenuous political harmony between Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature disintegrated Thursday when the DFL governor vetoed $901 million in proposed budget cuts aimed at paring the state's $6.2 billion deficit. Republicans had wanted to push the partial deficit solution ahead of Dayton's first budget presentation Tuesday, arguing that the state's fiscal crisis needs quick action.
Dayton, however, said the proposal was too hasty, had major problems and would effectively give Minnesotans a $428 million property tax increase over the next two years. He said a rush to adopt the cuts -- DFLers complained many provisions did not have hearings -- had led to a plan with "inaccurate and undocumented assumptions" and amounted to "misguided priorities."
In vetoing the plan just three hours after the Legislature passed it, Dayton attempted to wrestle back the budget spotlight from the Republicans, who had spent much of the session's first month saying that budget cuts and not tax increases were the best financial approach to reducing the shortfall.
"There is nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by addressing, in this disjointed manner, the projected budget deficit," Dayton said in his veto message. The comment echoed his ongoing complaint that Republicans were rushing a "piecemeal approach" to solving the deficit into law.
Republicans said the veto signaled that the gloves had come off.
"Game on. Here we go," said Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, the Senate's deputy majority leader. "We're going to have a clash. And that's OK.
"We do not support more taxes. We do not support more spending," he added.
Dayton's veto was believed to be the earliest by a first-term governor since World War II and contrasted with Wednesday's State of the State Address in which he called for ending the political polarization between Republicans and DFLers in tackling the deficit. The veto also drew comparisons to former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who had often used his veto powers to thwart DFLers during the time they held majorities in both the House and Senate.
Pawlenty, who last year vetoed his first bill two weeks after the legislative session began, had set a modern-day one-year record with 34 vetoes in 2008.
'It needs to happen"
Earlier in the day, Senate Taxes Committee Chair Julianne Ortman urged Dayton simply not to sign the legislation if he did not favor it -- a move that would have allowed the proposal to become law automatically.
"I hope, governor, you'll let this happen," said Ortman, R-Chanhassen. "It needs to happen."
Senate Republicans and DFLers in fact spent much of the afternoon attempting to interpret Dayton's State of the State address of a day earlier: Republicans said his description of the state's "fiscal mess" meant that he agreed lawmakers needed to act swiftly, while DFLers said Republicans were missing the governor's plea to work together.
"I'd like to know which State of the State speech Senator Ortman attended yesterday," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis.
The Republicans' plan aimed to force state agencies to cut $100 million by the end of June. But because of a separate attempt to also allow some tax breaks, the total amount to be cut this year was reduced to under $77 million. The bulk of the cuts -- just over $824 million -- would have come next year.
"We're not trying to poke the governor in the eye with it," said Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, rejecting the notion that Republicans were trying to paint Dayton into a political corner.
In passing the plan Thursday by 37 to 28, the Senate voted along political party lines. The House largely did the same in a 68-61 vote the day before.
Though the plan did not propose a property tax increase, Dayton said that cuts in local government aid and reductions in property tax relief for renters would amount to a tax hike. DFLers argued that the cuts would have hit middle-income property-tax payers, cities that rely on state aid, renters and the disadvantaged hardest.
Republicans countered that DFLers had voted for many of the cuts last year and that making any cuts, now or later, would be painful.
In his most pointed comments Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, also said that a change to a program dealing with sustainable forests, which he suggested Republicans did not fully understand, would give a handful of large forestry corporations a $11 million windfall while social service programs were being sliced.
"I don't see a shared pain," said Sen. Barb Goodwin, DFL-Columbia Heights. "I don't see that we're asking businesses to give something back."
Some of the day's bluntest remarks, however, came from some of the new Republican majority's freshmen.
Sen. David Brown, R-Becker, chided DFLers as being hypocritical after having been reluctant last year to start making budget cuts and instead fighting with Pawlenty.