Gov. Mark Dayton seemed more relieved than enthused Friday a few hours after the Republican-controlled Legislature finished its work for the year, completing a $46 billion, two-year state budget that handed some wins to the DFL governor but also plenty that he dislikes.
“There were parts of it that I reluctantly agreed to that I am very unhappy with,” Dayton said at an afternoon news conference, about 10 hours after lawmakers adjourned a four-day special session at 3 a.m. “And parts they agreed to that they’re very unhappy with, as well. That’s the nature of divided government.”
The Legislature wrapped up in the early morning hours after approving a nearly $1 billion public works borrowing package. Lawmakers approved other final pieces of the budget Thursday: $650 million in tax cuts, $483 million in new spending for schools and $300 million in new money for transportation.
“This legislative session will go down as one of the most productive in recent memory,” said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, cited the tax cuts, road money and help for health insurers and their customers as achievements.
He also pointed to the fix to bring the state into compliance with the federal Real ID law, which will ensure Minnesotans can enter federal buildings and board domestic flights with a driver’s license instead of a passport.
For a moment as the Legislature rushed to finish early Friday, small details threatened to derail the agreement.
The Senate DFL was so angered by House GOP language over a paved trail that they threatened to withhold needed votes. The dispute was resolved and the voting continued.
Dayton was circumspect about the final product, and said he’s undecided on whether to sign all 10 budget bills that lawmakers sent him.
He leveled criticism at some features of the plan, particularly the tax bill, which he said “prioritizes the needs of the wealthiest people and large corporations over working and middle income Minnesotans.”
A provision to freeze a tax on commercial and industrial property could foster fiscal instability in the future, he said.
The Legislature’s support for the state’s public colleges and universities, which will see an increase of $210 million, was too small, Dayton said: “It’s going to put extreme pressure on tuition and make it more difficult for students and their families to afford the cost of higher education.”
Dayton said he plans to act on the budget bills by midnight Tuesday.
Dayton saved his most withering critique for the GOP measure to stop cities from passing their own workplace rules, like the paid sick leave requirements in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the $15 minimum wage now in the works in Minneapolis.
It was perhaps the chief policy goal of Republicans who control the House and Senate, but they sent it to Dayton on Friday knowing that he would veto it.
Republicans responded to Dayton’s veto threat by larding the measure with several other items he supports to make the veto more painful, including an extended family leave program for state workers who become new parents.
The six-week paid leave program for state workers has been in place since November, but needed legislative approval to continue.
With Dayton planning to veto the measure on city labor standards, the paid sick leave program will die with it.
“It’s just shameful,” Dayton said. “That it will be abruptly cut off, taken away from them at this stage of their pregnancy or immediately after birth, it’s just cruel to do that to good people.”
Even as Dayton was trying to get the best deal with Republicans during several weeks of grueling talks, he was also facing pressure from progressives in his own party.
The AFL-CIO called on him Friday to veto the education funding bill. The public school budget bill would increase per-student payments to districts by 2 percent in each of the next two years, for a total of $483 million in new money over and above enrollment increases and inflation.
It also includes $50 million for a prekindergarten program that has become a signature issue for Dayton.
But the union said he should veto it for its “unprecedented attack on union members’ professional standards and workplace protections.”
In addition to the new money, the education bill includes changes in teacher licensing standards that drew union opposition.
Immigrant-rights activists, who staged a dayslong occupation of Dayton’s office over a provision in the public safety budget bill forbidding driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, called on Dayton to veto it.
They instructed lawmakers to boycott the DFL’s upcoming Humphrey-Mondale fundraising dinner over the issue.
Dayton said he is “genuinely undecided” about whether he will sign or veto the bills.
Although he made agreements with lawmakers on the broad outlines of the two-year budget bills, he said he always reserved the right to veto them.
When he was asked the best thing about the session, Dayton deadpanned, “The fact that it ended.”