Dayton: Session in ‘shambles’ as lawmakers race clock

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. Evan Frost | MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton declared the 2018  session in “shambles” Saturday night as legislators worked to send him major proposals that he’s likely to veto.

After a meeting with Republican legislators, Dayton emerged pessimistic that anything substantial will be accomplished this year. He said he won’t sign a 990-page budget bill legislators plan to send his way because it contains dozens of “objectionable” provisions.

The bill is as expansive: money for school security, a state response to the opioid epidemic, new grants for broadband in far-flung places, suicide prevention grants, steeper fines for texting-while-driving and much more. There are also plenty of sharp and controversial shifts in state policy.

By wrapping it all into one, the bill’s architects were challenging their peers to vote against it and testing Dayton’s resolve.

Both the House and Senate met past midnight. They pressed ahead with votes on the budget bill despite Dayton’s threat of a veto.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said it was a mistake to have “all the work of session go down in flames.”

“We have no chance to save the stuff that even well all agree on because of all the problematic provisions,” he said. “Sending it to an absolute certain veto, I don’t know why we would do that. What have we been doing here for 12 weeks if at the end of 12 weeks we’re basically going to throw the towel in and say we’re all going home. And we didn’t do a thing.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said Dayton must bend also.

“Compromise means we get some of what we want, too,” he said. “And this is an important bill. It’s an important bill for Minnesotans. No bill is perfect.”

He’s also likely to veto a Republican tax bill, he said, because it will look similar to a package of tax cuts he vetoed earlier this week.

“This session has been a shambles,” Dayton said outside his office. “I think the failure to even manage the final weeks and days has been the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Republicans in control of Legislature said they took out roughly 60 percent of more than 100 objectionable provisions Dayton highlighted in the budget bill. They said they’ve run out of time to draft a new proposal. Legislators are facing a midnight deadline on Sunday to complete their work for the year.

The fate of other major proposals also remained unclear.

Dayton requested $138 million in emergency funding for school districts because dozens are facing staff layoffs or program cuts.

Republicans countered with a new plan Saturday, offering to use several pots of money, including dollars owed to school districts from state trust lands and reserves for staff development. All told, they said it would put $225 million into school funding. Dayton said he needs to review that proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and other Republican lawmakers talked to reporters as time grew short in the 2018 session. Briana Bierschbach | MPR News

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Gazelka said it reflects significant compromise.

“The governor has asked us to meet him at the 50 yard line,” Gazelka said. “With this education funding proposal, we’ve done that and more, providing more funding, more flexibility and more resources for every Minnesota school from Roseau to Rochester.”

Legislators also want to pass a package of construction projects in a bonding bill this year, but senators were scrambling late Saturday to rebuild their proposal after it failed to pass off the floor earlier this week.

MPR News correspondent Brian Bakst contributed to this report.