ST. PAUL -- There will be no Saturday special legislative session to wrap up Minnesota's budget because the governor and House speaker continue to argue about the state auditor's authority.
While they debated that issue Friday, legislative finance committee members met to learn about three spending bills Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed after the regular legislative session ended on May 18: education, environment-natural resources and jobs-energy. They also looked over a public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds.
Those issues, as well as a measure funding outdoors and arts projects, are to be considered in a special session once House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Democrat Dayton work out their differences over the auditor's office.
Legislators passed eight budget bills by their May 18 constitutional deadline, but Dayton vetoed three of them. Those bills, including a $17 billion education measure, must be repassed.
On Friday afternoon, Daudt said he thinks all issues in budget bills are resolved and he hoped that four legislative leaders and Dayton still could meet soon to resolve the auditor issue and agree on when a special session will be held. Only the governor can schedule a special session and the governor, like others before him, demands that before he schedules a session all legislative leaders sign a document promising bills will pass as they were negotiated.
No meetings among legislative leaders and the governor were scheduled for the weekend.
Dayton mostly gave up on his demand to overturn a law he signed a couple of weeks ago limiting the state auditor's authority, although he admitted Republicans probably will not like his idea.
The Democratic governor released a statement saying he offered to accept House Republicans' position that counties be allowed to hire private accountants to audit their finances, but with one exception.
The difference in Dayton's offer is that he suggests that the auditor retain county auditing powers through Aug. 1, 2017, instead of a year earlier as the new law says.
Daudt said that Republicans do not agree to the Dayton offer, saying the governor just signed the bill containing the auditor change and there is no need to change it now.
The speaker said that Dayton's refusal to call a special session is threatening funds contained in vetoed budget bills for poultry farmers, steelworkers, flood victims and state employees who would be laid off on July 1 if no budget deal is reached.
Dayton was not surprised with Daudt's comments.
"I don’t expect House Republicans to like this compromise any more than I do," Dayton said in a statement. "I ask them to agree to it, while not agreeing with it, to conclude the people’s business.”
Dayton urged the GOP to agree with his "compromise."
"In this instance, failure to compromise would mean another state government shutdown," Dayton said.
House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said Republicans offered to let the Legislature vote on Dayton's proposed change, without a previous commitment by legislative leaders that it would pass. Dayton rejected the proposal.
Daudt had pushed hard for a Saturday session, and only gave up Friday afternoon. He had planned to leave for Europe on state government business, but said he will stay until his special session work is done.
The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees met late Friday afternoon and night to go over bills lawmakers will consider in the special session.
One bill would spend $373 million on public works projects, $180 million funded by selling bonds to be repaid by general tax revenues. Dayton earlier proposed selling $842 million in bonds for a much bigger construction plan, but the Republican-controlled House passed nothing during the regular session.
The bill contains money for two poultry testing laboratories, flood relief, three railroad crossings and other construction projects.
"All cake with very little frosting" is how Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, described the bill.
Rep. Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, complained that just six or eight legislators made decisions about what rail crossings would be funded. The bonding bill left off projects Dayton wanted in Moorhead, Coon Rapids and Prairie Island Indian Community. A Willmar project that Dayton supported was included in the bill, along with a small one at Rainy River and one in Plymouth.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, D-Plummer, said the Moorhead crossing is too expensive to fit into this year's bill.
Commissioner John Linc Stein of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency told the committees that the governor does not like a provision in the agriculture-environment bill that would eliminate the Citizens' Advisory Board that makes some environmental policy decisions. However, the commissioner said Dayton accepted it in the spirit of compromise.
Steve Morse, representing a number of environmental groups, told lawmakers that "this bill is unfortunate," and singled out the citizens' board issue. "We think it is an outrage to take citizens out of the process at this time."