- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Gov. Mark Dayton kept his promise Tuesday and rejected an education bill he said was too small, setting up a summer return for the Minnesota Legislature just when they have no place to meet.

Before adjourning Monday, top House and Senate lawmakers made a last effort to appease the Democratic governor with more funding for public schools and early childhood programs. But Dayton said the series of offers and counteroffers never hit the mark. Each side blamed the other for the impasse that will trigger a special session.

“I was willing go beyond halfway to meet them,” Dayton said.

Dayton marked the bill for an immediate veto once it is physically presented to him, killing any suspense he’d reconsider a prior threat.

The governor wouldn’t tip his hand on the timing or other details of a special session, including whether he may also strike down other portions of the Legislature’s $42 billion budget. He said he’ll need firm agreements from legislative leaders on the parameters and bill details before calling a special session.

Major renovations at the Capitol will force lawmakers out of their usual home for a summer session - workers began disassembling desks on the House and Senate floors soon after the session adjourned at midnight Monday. Dayton’s administration is scoping out potential locations.

The 2015 session brought a return of power-sharing after two years of Democratic rule, and the division meant a difficult road for most legislation. A massive transportation funding package got shoved aside, as did tax relief.

But it was the rift on education funding that spoiled the chances of a smooth getaway.

Rep. Jenifer Loon, the House Republicans’ Education Finance chair, said the GOP offered to add another $100 million to the $400 million in new public school funding passed by the Legislature. That extra money would have bumped up the state’s per-pupil funding formula and eliminated Head Start program waiting lists.

“His representatives said it wasn’t enough and walked away,” Loon said.

Dayton countered by asking for additional money and dropping his call for a statewide preschool program - one of his top priorities this session. But those talks broke off with 30 minutes remaining in the session and no deal in sight.

Ultimately, the two sides were just $25 million apart - a fraction of the state’s budget. But with the deadline behind them, it could be back to square one. Dayton said he may put some form of a preschool program back on the table and request more money, framing it as a choice between serving Minnesota children and leaving money in the state’s coffers to cut taxes for the wealthy.

After gaveling out the session, House Speaker Kurt Daudt said early Tuesday he hopes those last-minute negotiations would tee up a quicker resolution to the education impasse. But if Dayton holds out for a preschool program, Daudt said a special session may not be in the cards until June or later.

“The governor didn’t do his work to gain the support for his priority,” Daudt said. “I don’t know what difference a special session is going to make to change that.”

If lawmakers don’t agree by July 1, the Department of Education and some programs could go dark. Agency layoff notices will go out next month and a court order may be needed to assure payments to schools can be processed at current levels.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, a Democrat, worried that vetoing the education bill will be risky for the governor because it could give Republicans a chance to fight again for tax cuts in exchange.

“He’s at some risk they’re going to start at zero. We have a Republican majority across the road that doesn’t believe in spending money. That’s why we have a billion dollars on the bottom line,” Bakk said.

The Legislature’s finished product - clocking in at $42 billion for the next two years - would boost funding to rural nursing homes, increase health care premiums for more than 90,000 working poor residents on the state’s subsidized health care program and open up low-interest loans to farmers affected by a deadly bird flu outbreak.

Dayton plans to start a statewide tour this week or next to drum up support for his education stance and to counter Republicans’ insistence that school districts don’t want to offer preschool.

“They say there’s no support for it. Let’s find out,” he said.

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