Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — As Minnesota lawmakers scrambled Sunday to piece together the state's next budget before a fast-approaching deadline, the impact of the roughly $42 billion package on residents started coming into focus, and the prospect of an overtime session for education funding hung in the air.
Farmers affected by a bird flu outbreak could tap into low-interest loans to replace their flocks, college students would have more access to state grants but likely face tuition increases, and fines for repeat texting-while-driving offenders will rise.
The regular session must end Monday night, but an impasse over education funding raised the specter of a special session. With Capitol renovations forcing lawmakers out of their building Tuesday, Gov. Mark Dayton suggested the Legislature convene under a tent in lawn chairs if need be. He was threatening to take down a bill with $400 million in new money for schools because it omits money for his signature initiative that would have the state pay for preschool for all 4-year-olds.
"If they walk away, it's going to be vetoed. I can't say it strongly enough. If they don't believe me, it's not my fault," Dayton said, urging legislators to tap into a $1 billion pot being left aside for possible tax relief next year to fund the program.
After being labeled "intransigent" by the Democratic governor Sunday afternoon, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt faulted Dayton for not building up enough support for his top priority in the Legislature. He reiterated the House will proceed with its own education plan and said he hoped Dayton would reconsider a veto.
"I know the governor wants it. He should continue to work for it if it's that important to him," Daudt said late Sunday night. "If he doesn't have the votes now, what's going to change in a special session?"
The Senate also planned to pass the bill as-is.
Legislators were expected to work into Monday morning as the adjournment deadline drew near. The Legislature is split between two parties, and deadline pressure eroded some grand visions into incremental changes and tweaks and, in some cases, nothing at all.
A GOP-designed package with $2 billion in tax cuts stalled out over gas-tax politics surrounding a transportation bill, sinking both.
Lawmakers and groups with provisions in each chamber's tax bill looked for other pathways, but House Tax Committee Chairman Greg Davids stamped out the talk of a smaller bill emerging late.
"We're not going to go around and pick the low-hanging fruit and put together an easy tax bill," he said. "We're not going to have the tax bill have a death by a thousand cuts."
Among the few changes lined up for Minnesota's transportation network, the Legislature plans to dole out $5 million to upgrade railroad crossings, send more money to small cities for roadwork and increase the fine for multiple texting-while-driving offenses to $225 — up from $50.
The threatened education bill would bump up the state's per-pupil funding formula by 2 percent next year and 1.5 percent the following year, as well as increase funding for early learning scholarships.
The disappointment over education funding for some lawmakers extended to the state's colleges and universities. Both the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State College and Universities systems are expecting to hike tuition for the next two years, as their funding this time around would fall short of what they said they needed. The size of those potential increases is up in the air.
University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler credited the Legislature for lining up $30 million to boost its medical school, but was critical of what he considered lopsided appropriations that favored the state college system.
"The 53,000 resident students who attend our five campuses deserve much better," Kaler said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a small construction projects bill was taking flight. House Republicans readied a $100 million borrowing plan that would cover extra expenses in the state Capitol renovation, authorize a bird flu laboratory, make contributions to local road and bridge projects and help pay for recovery from past natural disasters. Republicans said it was intentionally small to cover only time-sensitive projects, but House Democrats warned that they might not put up a minimum of nine votes to help it pass.
In the Senate, Capital Investment Committee Chairman LeRoy Stumpf said he was hoping for a borrowing bill of at least $220 million and described even that as "skimpy" by legislative standards.