State leaders work to ‘button up’ budget work

Published 10:10 am Wednesday, June 3, 2015

It’s still unclear if bonding bill will be included

ST. PAUL — Makeshift House and Senate chambers with rollaway lecterns and portable microphones have been arranged for an impending special session. Now, Minnesota’s Legislature just needs final budget bills to vote on.

Mark Dayton

Mark Dayton

With the biggest question settled — Gov. Mark Dayton and majority House Republicans have agreed to spend $525 million more on schools — negotiations shifted Tuesday to a more tedious process of making the bills’ wording match the broader intentions. All told, the special session will likely involve three remaining budget bills and two other measures deemed too important to defer until the 2016 regular session.

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A special session starting this week is still a possibility as long as lingering issues can be addressed by today, House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. When they do return, members will squeeze into two hearing rooms in the State Office Building and take old-fashioned voice roll call votes because a significant Capitol renovation project has made their normal chambers off-limits.

Only Dayton can call the session and he said he intends to wait until everything is fully settled. He and the Legislature must enact the budget before July 1 to avoid shutting down some agencies, disrupting

vendor contracts and laying off thousands of state workers.

Daudt met with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith about how to parcel out the new education spending. Budget bills covering economic development programs, agriculture and natural resources were also left to finish, with scattered areas of disagreement to sort through.

“Nothing is ever buttoned up until you have the button in the button hole,” Smith said as she left Daudt’s office. “That’s what we’re working to do.”

Still unclear is the size and specific projects in a public works borrowing bill that Republicans want contained to $100 million, with about one-third for unexpected costs related to the Capitol repairs. That bill requires three-fifths votes to pass each chamber, requiring majority House Republicans and Senate Democrats to lean on minority parties for help.

Rep. Alice Hausman, the lead Democrat on the committee that crafts borrowing bills, said Republicans can’t count on nine votes from her side unless the price-tag grows. She said college campus repair projects and urgent affordable housing proposals are being ignored to meet an arbitrary goal.

“I would almost say don’t bother,” she said of a $100 million bill. Hausman said forecasts showing rising construction costs in the years to come make it imperative to bite off more projects sooner. “Arguably, taxpayer dollars are going further this year than they will next year.”

Daudt said the bill contains emergency measures for flood relief and other must-do items that would make it “politically unwise” for Democrats to scuttle.

But he acknowledged, “This is one of the very few places they’ve been able to flex their muscle.”