House DFL tells GOP to eat vegetables before dessert

Democrats in the Minnesota House are telling their Republican counterparts that they’re spending too much time on social issues and not enough time focusing on the state budget. Lawmakers have three weeks until the constitutional deadline to adjourn and only one budget bill has been signed into law. Democrats are hoping to put some political pressure on Republicans to pass a balanced budget before taking up any amendments to change the state’s constitution.

“The only reason they send us here is to do our basic job,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said about constituent expectations. “It’s to balance the state’s budget and to enact basic spending programs and raise revenue to pay for it. That’s all we do. That’s our top priority. These other things are secondary.”

Winkler points out that five joint House/Senate conference committees are scheduled to meet this week to discuss the respective portions of the state budget. But six committees are meeting this week to take up constitutional amendments like banning same sex marriage, requiring a photo identification to vote and a measure that require 3/5ths of the Legislature to vote in favor of a tax increase for it to become law.

Winkler proposed to change House rules to prevent the House from passing constitutional amendments until Governor Dayton signs the budget into law. Winkler then asked several first-term Republicans to highlight what their constituents think is the top priority of the session. Nearly all of them responded that job creation and the state budget are the top priorities. But some said that didn’t mean they couldn’t address other matters.

“Jobs and the economy are important,” Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, said. “They also believe that we follow the constitution. Which means we do have the right to listen to other bills while we’re waiting for the governor and his commissioners to show up and actually work with us in the conference committees.”

The House defeated Winkler’s amendment by voting 67-63 to lay the amendment on the table.

Republicans in the House and Senate are at odds with Governor Dayton over the best way to balance the state’s budget. Dayton is proposing to increase income taxes on Minnesota’s top earners to erase a $5 billion budget deficit. Republicans say they won’t support a tax increase and put forward a budget that relies on one-time money, spending cuts and federal waivers to erase the deficit. Dayton has said the GOP budget plans are $1 billion short of balancing.

Governor Dayton signed the agriculture budget bill into law last month – which accounts for less than 1 percent of the state’s budget.

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