ST. PAUL—The $46 billion question remains unanswered. Minnesota legislators finished passing a two-year state budget of that size early Friday, May 26, after nearly five months in regular session and more than three days in special session, but now those interested in state spending will wait until Tuesday to see if Gov. Mark Dayton signs them into law.
If Dayton vetoes part of the legislative budget package, and there are lots of pieces in it he said he does not like, it could mean lawmakers would be forced back to St. Paul to pass new spending measures. If part of the budget is not in place by June 30, some agencies could shut down.
"I am generally undecided" about signing bills, Dayton told reporters Friday, hours after legislators adjourned their special session. "I never committed to signing any of these 11 final bills."
Democrat Dayton and his staff will spend much of the holiday weekend combing through the mostly Republican-written bills, which are up to 672 pages long.
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, told Forum News Service that the bills are littered with mistakes and provisions the Dayton administration did not know had been inserted. Those issues could lead to vetoes, she said.
Many traditional Democratic groups urge vetoes of budget bills. Protesters filled the Capitol rotunda, and Dayton's office entrance, in the past few days demanding that he veto all the bills and start over.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he will strongly recommend the governor veto a $650 million bill that cuts taxes and provides funds to local governments. He said it reduces taxes too much for the good of the state budget.
But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said the tax bill needs to become law. "We said from the beginning we want significant tax relief."
The bill divides $650 million among aid to local governments and tax breaks such as for the first $100,000 of business property, farmland that is assessed for school construction and Social Security benefits.
"We were able to come to an agreement with the governor that includes the largest tax relief bill in two decades focused on reducing the tax burden on farmers, seniors, students and middle class Minnesotans, as well as a historic investment in roads and bridges without having to raise any taxes," Rep. John Poston, R-Lake Shore, said.
Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, said his rural district will benefit from some of the big measures passed this year, including tax and public works legislation that were "kind of following up on last year" when neither became law.
"We've been able to make some progress," Eken said.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, moments after the session adjourned at 2:42 a.m. Friday said that one of the key victories came with the transportation bill that put $300 million into roads, bridges and transit for the next two years. That was done by diverting sales tax money that now goes to other uses.
Besides the budget, lawmakers passed a range of legislation, including allowing liquor stores to be open Sundays (with local government approval), aided people forced to buy expensive individual health insurance policies, approved matching state driver's licenses with federal regulations so Minnesotans can use them to fly on airlines and approved a $987 million public works construction bill.
Their main job, however, was to pass a state budget.
Spending $46 billion of state taxpayers' money (up from $42 billion in the current budget) never was a debate, but how it was spent was the session's main division.
"We're really happy," Daudt said. "We accomplished what we set out to accomplish."
Bills funding five of 10 areas of the state budget passed by the midnight Monday constitutional deadline to adjourn the regular session, but Dayton called legislators right back to work for what was supposed to be a one-day special session. Lawmakers missed their deadline as the special session ran more than three days to pass the rest of the budget, which was more than two-thirds of state spending.
Friday morning's big bill was the 672-page health and human services measure. The top HHS Democrat, Sen.Tony Lourey of Kerrick, strongly argued to reject the legislation "and try to make this a little bit better bill."
Republicans talked of the need to save money on HHS programs because costs are climbing out of control.
But Rep. Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth, said the GOP-written bill actually will cost Minnesotans more.
She said the legislation contains $1.2 billion in one-time money, which will not be available in future years. "What happens in 2020 and 2021? It all falls down."
Once the HHS bill passed the Senate (35-26) and House (74-56), the final major measure was a bonding bill to fund $987 million of construction projects on state and local facilities. It passed easily in both chambers, the last major action before adjournment.