Policy dreams don't come true easily when the Minnesota Legislature's control is split between two parties. The top Senate DFL goal for the 2015 session was a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar transportation bill. The House Republican majority's fondest wish was a $2 billion tax cut.
Both of those dreams looked Saturday to have gone dormant with less than three full days remaining in the time the Constitution allots for legislative sessions. Gov. Mark Dayton's top priority, a big E-12 education spending boost and tuition-free preschool for the state's 4-year-olds, was on life support, its oxygen provided by his threat to veto a bill he deems too small.
Having yielded on their favored items, Senate DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt can't be expected to muster much sympathy for Dayton's call for $550 million in new E-12 spending, $150 million more than the sum to which two legislative leaders put their signatures Friday.
Dayton initially sought $700 million over the next two years for E-12, and wanted all-day preschool in all of the state's school districts. He said Saturday he's willing to support half-day preschool programs, and an incentive rather than a requirement that school districts offer them.
If legislators ignore Dayton's threat, pass their E-12 bill and adjourn Monday night, Dayton will have three days after officially receiving the bill to either sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Dayton said he was willing to take up education funding in a special session if necessary – a difficult move, given the Capitol's closure for reconstruction. An ed bill veto would not necessitate a special session, but it would require schools to operate for another year with per-pupil funding levels set in 2013 – allocations that are becoming uncomfortably tight for most districts.
That would put education funding squarely on the 2016 Legislature's agenda, where it would compete with transportation and tax cut proposals for what would likely be more than a $1.5 billion surplus in the budget period ending June 30, 2017. Education likely would hold its own nicely in that competition – especially after Dayton spends the next 10 months telling Minnesotans that schools are hurting because the Legislature refused to send him an adequate E-12 bill.
Policy dreams left unfulfilled at the end of an odd-numbered Minnesota legislative session aren't dead. They only hibernate until the Legislature goes back into action the following spring. Sometimes they wake up stronger than ever.