Updated: 4:10 p.m. | Posted: 2 p.m.
The next session of the Legislature is eight months away, but Gov. Mark Dayton already is warning state lawmakers not to let preschool students take a back seat to tax cuts.
During a Minneapolis news conference on Tuesday Dayton said he would not sign a tax bill next session unless the Legislature also sends him another funding increase for early childhood education.
Dayton issued his early ultimatum during an event that highlighted Minnesota’s top ranking in a new report on children. The analysis from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Children’s Defense Fund ranked Minnesota No. 1 overall when measuring economic conditions, education, health and other factors.
Despite the top ranking, Dayton said too many disparities remain for children of color. He said that’s why he’ll keep pushing to use some of the anticipated budget surplus for early childhood education funding next year.
“We’ve had good revenue forecast now in the last couple of months,” the governor said. “We’ll have to wait until November to see how it all balances out. But anybody … in the Legislature who thinks they’re going to give all this money back in tax cuts better understand that I will not sign a tax bill that does not have an equitable amount in it overall for early childhood and for continuing the progress that we’ve made here.”
Early education was a major sticking point this year and wasn’t resolved until last month’s special session. Dayton eventually signed an education bill that increased funding for early learning scholarships, school readiness and Head Start. But he backed off his previous demand for preschool for every 4-year-old in the state.
Looking ahead to the session that begins March 8, Dayton said he does not yet have a definitive early education proposal for 2016.
“We’re going to keep making that the priority of my administration, and anything else is going to have to take second place and not precede it.”
Republicans have their own priorities. Tax cuts and transportation funding are at the top of their list, and even if the surplus doesn’t keep growing, the Legislature has more than $800 million that was left unspent in 2015.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he’s willing to discuss other issues — from education and transportation to tax relief — but he doesn’t like ultimatums.
“We shouldn’t connect all of these things and try to say that I’m not going to give you this if you don’t give me that,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “Why don’t we look at all of those areas individually and do what’s right in each of those areas?”
State finance officials will provide a clearer picture of the expected budget surplus in November.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann said he doesn’t see the need for any more spending, even with a surplus.
“We had a significant increase in spending in this budget that we just passed,” said Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “If we are still collecting money in excess of that budget that should be an indication that we need to look at our tax code.”