Budget must be in place to avoid a shutdown

Published 9:04 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ST. PAUL  — Minnesota legislators went into overtime Tuesday to wrap up work on a $46 billion state budget and appeared on track to successfully conclude a nearly five-month session and avoid the specter of a summer government shutdown.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republicans who control the Legislature struck an agreement shortly before midnight Monday — the mandated end of the regular session — on how to use a $1.65 billion surplus. They agreed to put $660 million toward tax relief, $50 million to expand preschool offerings and $300 million to fix roads and bridges.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said lawmakers needed to finalize details, but he was confident they would do so ahead of Tuesday afternoon floor sessions in each chamber. They had until 7 a.m. Wednesday to finalize the budget.

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“We all had to give up something, which is always what happens,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.

Monday night’s negotiations followed a full weekend of work piecing together the budget, with lawmakers keen to avert even the possibility of a shutdown after the fiscal year ends in June.

The Legislature sent Dayton bills that fund state colleges and universities, agricultural programs, courts and public safety agencies, environmental programs and more. But by Monday morning, it was clear they were running out of time, as the governor and Republican leaders deadlocked over the largest slices of the state budget, including public school spending, tax breaks and the scope of cuts to public health services.

Dayton had deemed expanding a preschool program launched last year into more schools a must-have in the budget, funding Republicans resisted. And the GOP pushed the Democratic governor for more in tax relief and a transportation funding plan that doesn’t raise gasoline taxes or license tab fees. Their agreement also calls for nearly $1 billion of public construction projects, with a healthy share for transportation repairs.

“It’s not everything that I want,” Dayton said of their agreement. “You give and take.”

The House and Senate formally ended the legislative session shortly before midnight Monday, only to gavel in the special session as the clock struck 12:01 a.m.

Special sessions have become routine at the Legislature. Lawmakers needed a one-day overtime session while setting its last budget in 2015 after Dayton vetoed several spending bills. In 2011, deep disagreements between Dayton and a GOP-controlled Legislature over how to solve a $6 billion shortfall triggered a 20-day government shutdown that ended only after a special session.

Whether the last-minute plan ultimately succeeds will rest on rank-and-file lawmakers. Though Republican lawmakers hoped for less in spending than the final plan entails, GOP Rep. Bob Dettmer, of Forest Lake, said the overriding factor in his approval would be getting the budget done as soon as possible.

“I’m glad we gaveled out and gaveled right back in. That’s the right way to do it,” he said. “We have to get our work done.”