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Dayton follows through on promise, vetoes five omnibus budget bills

By Jonathan Mohr
Gov. Mark Dayton addresses the media following a budget negotiation meeting with legislative Republican leaders May 9. House Photography file photo

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed five omnibus budget bills Friday, outlining objections that included funding shortfalls during a time of surplus and controversial policy provisions in a series of veto letters and urging the Legislature to continue its work as the 2017 session nears its end.

During a press briefing Thursday, Dayton said he would veto the bills and planned to resume talks with legislative leaders on Monday.

House and Senate Republicans began passing their omnibus budget bills earlier in the week after expressing frustration with the pace of negotiations.

The bills vetoed Friday were:

Agriculture

While HF895/ SF780*, sponsored by Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake) and Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), would have appropriated more than $100 million during the upcoming biennium, Dayton wrote it did not make the investments necessary for the Department of Agriculture to “carry out its mission.”

The bill would have funded the department as well as the Board of Animal Health and Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. That funding would have been used for farmer-led councils meant to help implement the state’s buffer laws; provide money for research to prevent avian influenza; establish a pollinator habitat and research account; appropriate funds to manage the state’s industrial hemp pilot program; and fund reimbursement payments for destroyed or crippled livestock, among other provisions.

Dayton also objected to earmarks in the AGRI funds and language related to pesticides that “places the agency in conflict with federal law and strips the agency of existing pesticide enforcement authority.”

 

Education

The nearly $18.58 billion proposal, sponsored by Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie) and Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), would have increased General Education Basic Formula funding by 1.5 percent over the 2018-19 biennium. That would have resulted in an additional $247.7 million, the number put forth in the Senate proposal. Opponents have argued a 2 percent increase is necessary to keep up with inflation and rising costs.

In his veto letter, Dayton wrote the bill “falls well short in delivering the public investment in education that will ensure our children the ability to reach their full potential.”

Voluntary pre-k funding would have been replaced by $112.9 million in school readiness funding and $138.7 million for early learning scholarships. The governor sought a $175 million increase in pre-k funding.

Supporters say it is a more targeted approach to reach students in need; opponents contend the move could create a “voucher system," further perpetuating inequity.

 

Environment and Natural Resources

The omnibus environment and natural resources policy and finance bill would have appropriated more than $800 million during the upcoming biennium, but critics said it didn’t provide enough funding for state agencies to maintain their current levels of services or do enough to protect the environment or natural resources.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian (R-Roseau) and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), HF888*/ SF723 would also have delayed implementation of the 2015 buffer law, increased state park fees, changed a number of permitting policies, and modified the composition of the Environmental Quality Board.

But Dayton wrote that the bill “leaves a significant funding gap and makes unwarranted policy changes that would thwart the progress we’ve made together.” He said more operating and fee increases were needed to maintain the services and the recreation opportunities Minnesotans enjoy and said the bill is “full of controversial policy provisions.”

 

Health and Human Services

The nearly $14 billion omnibus health and human services bill would have cut $482.44 million from projected state spending during the 2018-19 biennium. Advocates, including bill sponsors Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) and Sen. Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake), said that HF945/ SF800* would have been a major step toward reigning in unbridled and expansive costs.

Dayton called the bill “reckless and foolish” for making cuts at a time when the state has a significant budget surplus. He said it would “undermine services for the most vulnerable Minnesotans.”

Opponents had criticized the proposal since its introduction for leaving out many measures and basing its savings on controversial, infective measures.

The bill would also have transitioned Minnesotans from MNsure, the state-run insurance marketplace, to a federally facilitated marketplace.

 

State Government

The omnibus state government finance bill, HF691/ SF605*, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth) and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), would have made major spending reductions in most executive branch agencies and constitutional offices while increasing funding in legislative budgets.

With an emphasis on military affairs and veteran services, the $973.5 million package would have reduced state agencies’ budgets — like the Department of Revenue and Minnesota Management and Budget — by as much as 12 percent.

In his veto letter, Dayton wrote the spending reductions "defy common sense, and [would] take our State in the wrong direction" and the bill "contains too many unwarranted intrusions into the operating prerogatives of the Executive Branch and elected Constitutional Offices."

Dayton has proposed $51 million in digital technology upgrades and $74 million to update cybersecurity throughout the state's network. Anderson's bill, however, included further consolidation by MN.IT, the state's information technology service, at current base level spending.

The bill would have also eliminated the publicly funded campaign finance subsidy program, a $2.6 million savings every two years.

"I will not sign a state government budget bill that includes election-related policy provisions," Dayton wrote. "Throughout my two terms as Governor, I have consistently followed the rule established by Governor Pawlenty that any changes to our election laws must have broad bipartisan support."

House Public Information Services writers Ricky Campbell and Tory Cooney, and Assistant Editor Mike Cook contributed to this story.

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