Legislators locked in disagreement as deadline approaches

Latasha Webb

With conference committees still debating, Gov. Jesse Ventura could not call a special session by the Wednesday deadline he set last week.

Higher education funding and environment committees are the only two bills to reach agreements. Health services, housing,
transportation, early childhood and K-12 education bills are so far
without committee agreements.

The Higher Education Conference Committee agreed to increase University funding by $90 million. This agreement will not become final until the Legislature passes the bill in the upcoming special session.

Among the issues the Legislature faces without a budget are taxes and layoffs.

The Minnesota Revenue Department must have a budget by Monday to complete tax changes and cuts on schedule.

Layoff notices to state employees must be sent two weeks prior to a July 1 government shutdown.

“I’m not sure (legislators) realize the seriousness,” said Ventura on KFAN radio May 31.

“If there’s no agreement at a certain point, we have to send out, by law, notifications to all of our union people that they will indeed be laid off as of June 30,” he added.

Sen. Deanna Wiener, DFL-Eagan, said the disagreement lies in the “appropriate balance” between education and property taxes.

Republicans are placing the responsibility on the Democratic-led Senate, while Democrats refuse to be blamed.

“Basically if you look at the
broken deal May 25, it becomes clear the Senate is not living up to it’s agreement,” said Rep. George Cassel R-Alexandria.

“Democrats want to make sure the public understands when the final deal happens – the teacher
layoffs, the increase in class sizes – the blame is on Ventura,” said Rep. Andy Dawkins, DFL-St. Paul.

He added, “Really, it’s not about who’s the problem. Neither side is willing to compromise.”

Without a new budget many of the state’s 53,000 employees could be notified of a layoff as soon as June 15.

An agreement seems unlikely if Cassel and Dawkins represent the average opinions of Republicans and Democrats.

“We’re not willing to budge on money for education when it would be to fund tax cuts for the wealthy,” Dawkins said, adding that the Higher Education Conference Committee’s decision to increase University funding by approximately $90 million was inadequate.

“I think the property tax reform is the most significant element being held hostage,” said Cassell, adding that he was “extremely pleased” with the University’s funding increase.

“They are so strongly committed to putting $1.5 billion into tax relief that other priorities don’t stand a chance,” said Lyndon Carlson,
DFL-Crystal.

A budget must be agreed upon in the near future, or Minnesotans might find themselves making unpleasant adjustments.

“I don’t know if some of them (legislators) really believe that a government shutdown is no big deal,” Ventura said. “But these
people need to get off their hands; we’ve got deadlines.”

 

Latasha Webb covers state government and welcomes comments at [email protected]