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Will Legislature finish on time?

May 21, 2017 GMT

ST. PAUL — The governor warned Republican legislative leaders on Friday evening that their decision to move ahead with their own budget bills could lead to a special session.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton said on TPT’s public affairs show “Almanac” that he was disappointed GOP leaders had abandoned efforts to reach a final deal with him in favor of pushing ahead with their own budget proposals. He vowed he will not sign budget bills that put the state’s future financial health at risk or include controversial policy items.

Asked if he thinks a special session can be avoided, Dayton replied, “It’s on the knife’s edge.”

But with time in the legislative session running out, House and Senate leaders said they no longer could wait to reach a deal with the governor. Instead, they are pushing ahead with their own $46 billion, two-year budget proposal. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the hope is the governor will keep negotiating as they craft the final bills.

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“We all want to get done on time, and we think we can do it. We’re doing our part, and we want the governor to do his part,” said Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

Legislators have until midnight on Monday to get the bills passed. It then will be up to Dayton whether or not to sign them. If Dayton vetoes any of the budget bills, it will require a special session to avoid triggering a partial government shutdown on July 1.

In a bid to win the governor’s support, Republicans have whittled their tax cut proposal to $660 million — down from a $1.1 billion proposal Dayton vetoed earlier. They also have pledged to boost spending in several areas. But Dayton has made it clear he is wary of passing a large tax bill that could lead to budget shortfalls down the road. He also wants to see more of the state’s $1.5 billion surplus allocated to education and health care.

Then there is the issue of policy. Republican leaders say they intend to keep policy measures in the budget bills despite Dayton’s veto threat. That includes a measure Dayton opposes that would block cities from enacting ordinances that establish a higher minimum wage or require paid sick time.

“Every bill always has policy,” Gazelka said.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said if Republicans were serious about reaching a compromise with the governor, they would have stayed at the negotiating table. Given how little time is left, she said she expects Republicans to be trying to push through massive budget bills that lawmakers and the public have had little time to review.

“It just looks like another meltdown happening here. Very unfortunate,” Liebling said.

But Rochester GOP Rep. Nels Pierson said lawmakers had no choice but to act. He said the governor has not been engaged enough in the budget process.

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“We are anticipating we are going to get another set of budget bills passed one way or another, and if the governor isn’t going to participate and get the job done with us, there’s not much more the Legislature can do,” Pierson said.

Senate Capital Investment Committee Chairman Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, agrees with Pierson it is time to start passing budget bills. He said he is hopeful once those budget bills pass there still will be time for lawmakers to pass a roughly $1 billion construction spending package.

“The budget bills are essential. The bonding bill is near to essential but not,” Senjem said

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, said he hopes Republicans stay true to their word and try to keep working with the governor during the weekend. He said he expects it will be “extremely difficult” for lawmakers to get their work done on time. The veteran lawmaker also said he is dismayed to see how things are being done.

Pelowski added, “This should be a process where our primary consideration should be what’s good for Minnesota? It has developed into what’s good for the political base, and that’s a far cry from how it was when I first came here.”