GOP passing bills, despite Dayton's veto threatby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With just five days left in the legislative session, Republicans are pushing through a series of budget bills that face certain vetoes from DFL Gov. Mark Dayton.
The measures set for Senate votes Wednesday included state government, health and human services and K-12 education. But GOP leaders and Dayton still don't have an overall agreement to erase a projected $5 billion budget deficit, and that's making a special session look more likely.
The Minnesota Senate started an expected marathon session with a $600 million conference committee report to fund state government, military and veterans affairs for the next two years. The bill would make big cuts in projected spending, by freezing public employee salaries and trimming the state workforce by 15 percent over four years.
But much of the specific cutting is left to the Dayton administration and the Minnesota Management and Budget department. Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, defended the approach as a way to avoid micro-managing.
"We have just said that this is where we're going to allocate the money, and we expect the kind of cuts that would be appropriate for each of the departments through MMB," said Parry. "I contend that if the commissioners don't want to do their jobs then we should eliminate them, and then we will become micro-managers from this body."
Gov. Dayton and his commissioners have complained about the proposed cuts, the potential impact on government services and what they see as unsubstantiated savings in the bills. They've sent letters to House and Senate negotiators outlining their concerns.
But Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the administration refused to negotiate.
"'Just say no' is a wonderful mantra to be used in the context use of drugs. It's not a wonderful mantra to be used in the context of negotiations," said Thompson. "We are starting to see the beginning of a 'just say no governor.'"
Thompson's charge came just two days after GOP leaders rejected Dayton's attempt to reach an end-of-session budget deal by reducing his proposed income tax increase on top earners.
Republicans say they won't budge on their opposition to taxes, and they're now following through on their obligation to deliver a balanced budget, based on spending cuts alone, before Monday's adjournment.
Dayton has three days to act on a bill once it lands on his desk. The governor continues to avoid the word "veto." But on Wednesday, he made his intentions clear.
"I'm not going to let them become law without my signature, I guarantee you that," said Dayton. "So, within three days I will be rejecting the bills and sending them back to the leadership."
Democrats warn Republicans that they won't have enough time to pass another round of bills. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, blasted the GOP strategy.
"We've never done that with a chief executive of this state -- present these omnibus finance bills on a fait accompli basis and assume there's time to re-negotiate," said Cohen.
Some of Cohen's DFL colleagues were trying to help run out the clock by delivering lengthy, sometimes wandering floor speeches. Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, shared her concerns about reduced funding for the Science Museum of Minnesota, and then talked at length about dinosaurs and King Tut.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo said later that Democrats had resorted to what she called "pitiful stall tactics."
"I think it was beneath these bodies, and certainly not what we were sent here to do. I'm very disappointed," said Koch.
After five hours of debate on the state government bill, senators switched their focus to a $10.8 billion bill to fund health care for the poor, disabled and elderly. They were also poised to take up a $14 billion funding bill for K-12 public schools.
But without an overall budget agreement, those bills too are headed for a gubernatorial veto.
- All Things Considered, 05/18/2011, 5:20 p.m.