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Dayton, GOP Legislature at odds as budget talks pause

Minnesota state Sen. Gary Dahms of Redwood Falls says that the veto of a teacher licensing change on Thursday, May 18, 2017, will make it harder for rural schools to use professionals to teach classes. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 5
Minnesota state Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton says she was surprised that Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill Thursday, May 18, 2017, that would have changed how teachers are licensed. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 5
Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget says on Thursday, May 18, 2017, that state budget negotiations were at an impasse. With him is Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 5
Chairman Jim Knoblach of the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee points to a painting in the governor's Cabinet room to illustrate that Gov. Mark Dayton's budget plan did not go half way to the legislative proposal as he had claimed. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 5
Minnesota state Sen. Richard Cohen, left, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt find a few minutes to chat Thursday evening, May 18, 2017, before the speaker needed to meet with Senate leaders about the state budget. Don Davis / Forum News Service5 / 5

ST. PAUL -- It is something that happens at this time of the Minnesota Legislature almost every year: nothing.

"We are at an impasse," Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said Thursday, May 18, adding that no more state budget negotiations are planned even as the Legislature's deadline approaches Monday, May 22.

While a stalemate is common, there is more talk than usual about needing a special session to finish the state's $46 billion, two-year budget. The governor is one who thinks overtime may be needed.

When a school group asked him Thursday about an overtime session, Gov. Mark Dayton said, "I'm afraid probably so," Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities Public Television reported. The governor also said the Senate appears to want to get the work done, but House leadership prefers confrontation.

Dayton is not alone in thinking work may not be concluded by the midnight Monday constitutional deadline. Assistant House Minority Leader Ben Lien, D-Moorhead, said he thinks there is a good chance the Legislature will need a special session, and other legislators appear to be leaning that way.

All day Thursday, the Dayton administration and Republican legislative leaders said they were waiting for the other side to deliver a new budget.

Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he hoped to work with the House to develop another offer.

Minutes later, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, emphasized it was Dayton's turn to make a move and did not appear interested in preparing another one yet. However, he said he would hear out Gazelka.

In any case, Republicans were preparing to send Dayton a new set of budget bills if negotiations fail. Daudt said Dayton has signed some such bills in the past, without negotiations concluded, so he held it out as a last-second chance to wrap up the session on time.

Gazelka downplayed the need for a special session. "There is no reason we can't get things done."

Daudt said two years ago, legislative leaders and Dayton resolved a budget impasse on Friday night. On Thursday, he said, "I would have preferred tonight."

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, expressed doubt about how things are going. "The question to ask the Senate majority leader and speaker is if they want to get done on time."

He said GOP leaders have talked from the beginning of the session about sending bills to Dayton that he would be expected to veto.

Also, Bakk said, there is the issue of being able to logistically get the bills written before the deadline. There may be more work at the deadline than legislative office can handle, he said.

If Dayton and lawmakers miss their Monday deadline, they still must approve a budget before July 1, when a new budget cycle begins. Otherwise, there will be a state government shutdown.

The state constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn Monday. Before that, lawmakers must agree on eight to 10 bills that establish the state's budget.

About the only bright spot Thursday was Dayton's signature on legislation adopting federal Real ID standards.

"I am very pleased that the Legislature has finally passed this critical bipartisan measure, which will allow Minnesotans to continue to board airplanes, and access federal facilities, with a compliant driver’s license," Dayton said

GOP lawmakers blasted a Dayton veto of a teacher licensure bill, saying it especially hurts rural Minnesota schools that struggle to hire teachers.

"This is a real setback for rural Minnesota education," Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, said shortly after Dayton issued the veto.

The bill would overhaul how the state licenses teachers, allowing more professionals to teach in classrooms.

Dayton urged lawmakers to make changes so it still could become law this legislative session. The legislation, he said, should include money to implement the changes. One estimate puts that at about $3.4 million.

"We were blindsided by this veto," Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, said, citing a letter she and Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, delivered to the governor's office asking for a meeting before Dayton decided what to do with the bill..

Erickson said legislators met on the bill 25 times and incorporated Dayton administration wishes.

Dayton said the major reason he vetoed the bill was because its cost was not covered in the bill. He also questioned whether instructors not trained as teachers should be in the classroom.

The state teachers' union, Education Minnesota, opposes the licensing change.

Pratt said provisions in the bill making it easier for professionals in other fields to teach would be especially helpful to rural districts, where recruiting teachers is becoming more difficult.

"This is a slap in the face of career and technical education," Erickson said, areas that are especially important in rural schools.

Dahms said it is more important to bring a qualified contractor into a school to teach a shop class a day a week than to have no shop class. He said it is more important to allow a banker to teach a finance class than to not offer one for rural students.

"It gives our schools some options," Dahms said of the vetoed bill.

Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said the veto looks somewhat like what Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, last week called a "war on agriculture" by the Dayton administration.

"I believe there is a huge information gap right now between the governor's office and rural Minnesota," Bennett said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.