- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers sprinted Saturday to complete a $41.5 billion, two-year state budget that has drawn the ire of Gov. Mark Dayton.

A two-way deal reached between the Republican House majority and Senate Democratic majority set off the race to the Legislature’s mandatory Monday night adjournment of the session. House-Senate panels planned to meet throughout the weekend to finish writing the bills that make up the budget, with votes coming as soon as they are ready. One of them, a package for public schools, sparked a veto threat from Dayton and raised the possibility of an overtime session.

The Democratic governor said the $400 million in new school spending isn’t sufficient. He’s holding out for $550 million that includes funding for a prized preschool initiative.

“If they send me a bill for less than $550 million, then my view is a special session is their fault and their responsibility,” Dayton told The Associated Press in an interview late Friday night.

Dayton’s stance threw a wrinkle in an apparent agreement, which Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt announced after five days of closed-door talks involving the governor.

“Sometimes the best negotiations are when everyone walks away from the table grumbling a little bit,” Bakk said. “No one walks away angry, but everybody is grumbling a little bit.”

Barring a late change in negotiations, $1 billion would be left in the state’s coffers to take another stab next year at a long-term transportation funding plan and tax breaks. Minnesota had a nearly $1.9 billion projected surplus to use while crafting the budget.

Though they still need to work out some areas of disagreement, both legislative leaders vowed the emerging deal paves the way for a timely finish.

Despite hosting the talks, Dayton was absent as the leaders appeared to discuss their outline. He said the legislators asked to go over some things privately and he was blindsided by their public pronouncement he hadn’t signed off on.

“It broke the cooperative way in which we had been proceeding with no forewarning,” Dayton told AP.

Daudt responded that time was of the essence.

“We got to the point where we said we need to figure this out or we were going into extra innings,” Daudt said. “We felt it was more important that we finish on time. We felt we were honoring a lot of what the governor wanted.”

State-paid preschool for all 4-year-olds, a priority of the governor, wasn’t included in the legislative plan. It also remains to be seen how another signature Dayton initiative - new regulations to protect waterways from agricultural runoff - would come out.

The amount for education is less than what Dayton wanted but more than either the House or Senate approved. That likely means schools get more on the per-pupil formula that comes with maximum flexibility.

“I’d be disappointed if he decided to veto $400 million in new funding” for schools, Bakk said. “It’s a lot of money.”

Daudt also said the House would proceed with the lower number.

The two sides agreed to leave MinnesotaCare - the state’s subsidized health care program that serves nearly 100,000 low-income Minnesota residents - largely untouched for the next two years. House Republicans put that program on the chopping block, citing its growing costs and a funding source due to expire in 2019. The agreement calls for a task force to review the program’s viability.

The pact puts about $140 million more into nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, a Democrat, said his caucus wouldn’t throw up procedural obstacles to the session’s conclusion. But he took issue with the wait-and-try-again approach, specifically leaving money behind for potential tax cuts.

“It’s fair for Minnesotans to ask: Why are you leaving that money on the bottom line when you could freeze tuition or do these other things?” he said. “The idea that getting done on time is victory is a pretty low standard to apply. We had a big opportunity to continue to build on progress and it doesn’t look like we’re going to be able to do that.”


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