In session’s final weeks, a break, then back to work

Lawmakers are preparing for the last budget battles of the soon-to-end session.

by Michael Zittlow

When Minnesota lawmakers return to the Capitol next week after the Easter-Passover break, the push to get final budget bills to the governorâÄôs office is on.
But Gov. Mark DaytonâÄôs desk may not offer a warm welcome.  
Republicans are set on closing the stateâÄôs $5 billion deficit with cuts and no new taxes, while Dayton wants to raise taxes on MinnesotaâÄôs highest earners to fix the budget gap. Meanwhile, the possibility of a government shutdown looms with a May 23 deadline.
DFLers have complained that Republicans used âÄúphonyâÄù numbers in their budget bills that werenâÄôt calculated by bipartisan organizations.
The Department of Revenue and Minnesota Management and Budget sent a letter to Republicans last week qualifying DFLersâÄô claims, saying $1.2 billion in some of the budget bills could not be accounted for. Republicans have stood by their numbers, saying traditional fiscal notes overestimated the costs of some of their proposals.
Despite their differences, the two sides need each other to produce a spending plan: Dayton canâÄôt pass a budget by himself, and the Republicans will find it virtually impossible to get their bills through without the governorâÄôs signature.
Conference committees
Conference committees aimed at working out the differences between Republican Senate and House proposals to produce one budget bill will continue next week.
After a bill comes out of the conference committee, itâÄôs sent to the governor, who must sign it into law or veto it within three days.
Of the 10 Republican budget proposals, only the agriculture finance bill, which comprises a small fraction of the stateâÄôs budget, has been signed by Dayton.
Conference committees for the omnibus tax and jobs bills have been slated for next Tuesday. More meetings are expected to be scheduled for next week.
Higher education
The chairs of the LegislatureâÄôs two higher education committees âÄìâÄì Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, and Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville âÄìâÄì will be meeting early next week to find a time for their next conference committee meeting, Nornes said.
The committee, made up of 10 Republicans, will have to come to an agreement on one budget bill for funding the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system. The House bill proposes $161.3 million in cuts to the University over the next two years; the Senate version proposes $170 million.
The University has said the proposed cuts would seriously harm the school. Some of the billsâÄô most contested issues include policy provisions limiting tuition increases and prohibiting human cloning.
While the governor has said he didnâÄôt want to see policy provisions in budget bills, Republicans havenâÄôt deleted these additions.
âÄúThere will be some policy in the bills for sure,âÄù Nornes said.
The conference committee will include an opportunity for public testimony, Nornes said, but members probably wonâÄôt be in touch with University officials before the meeting.
A government shutdown?
If the Republicans and the governor canâÄôt agree on a budget by May 23, the state will go into a government shutdown.
Larry Jacobs, a political science professor at the University, said while a shutdown âÄúis certainly possibleâÄù because of DaytonâÄôs and RepublicansâÄô differing views on taxes, it might be avoided.
The Republicans have held strong on their no-new-taxes stance. But Jacobs said they havenâÄôt voiced similar opposition to new revenue. This could mean widening the base of existing taxes, producing the extra revenue Dayton wants.
Jacobs also said regular communication between the governor and Republican leaders Sen. Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, is a good sign. In past sessions, talks between a Minnesota governor and an opposing majority in the Legislature havenâÄôt been as transparent, Jacobs said.