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This year, Dayton holds all the power: Governor says he’s analyzing major bills, possible special section

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will spend his holiday weekend reviewing the minute details of the spending and tax bills the Legislature delivered for his signature as he decides their fate.

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Gov. Mark Dayton remarks about the short amount of time the legislature has to come up with bills for him to sign during a press conference May 20 at the Veterans Services Building. The legislative session ended two days later. John Autey/Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL - Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton will spend his holiday weekend reviewing the minute details of the spending and tax bills the Legislature delivered for his signature as he decides their fate.

In an interview with the Pioneer Press Friday, he said that while lawmakers’ work on the multimillion-dollar measures was done in haste - legislators approved the changes to the state’s finances in the final hours of the session that ended a week ago - he wants to carefully consider what they did.
“I just want to be deliberate since I have the time, given all the confusion” in the rushed end of the session, Dayton said Friday afternoon.
The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor, nearly boxed out of last year’s end-of-session decisions, holds complete power over the decisions of 2016. Will he sign the bills lawmakers frantically negotiated and approved? Will he call the Legislature back to finish the work they left undone?
Dayton will decide.

The bills
In the interview, the governor said he had already pored over the lawmakers’ work.
“I spent six hours on Wednesday and about four hours yesterday going through them in detail with staff, “ Dayton said. “We went through all the major bills with a fine-toothed comb and asked for some further analysis I’m going to get by the end of the day.”
With a midnight deadline last Sunday, lawmakers approved changes to this year’s spending and taxes worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Considering the governor’s priorities, as well as their own, they allocated additional monies for voluntary public pre-kindergarten for young kids, more training for school staff, rural high-speed Internet, $35 million in programs designed to reduce racial disparities and $35 million more for state hospitals.
The Legislature, on wide bipartisan votes, also approved tax cuts and credits that cost the state cash in its short- and long-term budgeting. Students with college debt, veterans, tobacco companies, families and cities are among the beneficiaries.
The governor can sign or veto the bills in their entirety or line-item veto specific spending areas. While he has made clear he wished the Legislature would have spent more - he desired $100 million in broadband expansion grants and the Legislature allocated $35 million, for instance - he cannot retroactively add to their spending plans. Nor can he surgically excise any policy measures he does not like in their work; on the tax changes, his choices are just two: sign or veto.
The state can function without either measure becoming law. Last year, Minnesota put in place a two-year budget, meaning there will be no state government shutdown without this year’s spending changes.

Dayton said that, unlike last year when the Legislature left him out of budget bills, he and his staff were more involved in crafting this year’s measures. He said he and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, were truly partners in the session’s work this year, a sharp contrast to their public and virulent feud of last year.
“With the Senate and House DFLers, we were very much working in partnership,” Dayton said.
The governor had worked hard this year to be more aware of the Legislature’s needs and to communicate his own. He said that personal touch largely paid off.
“I hope the fact that I extended my winsome personality to enchant everybody had at least some beneficial effect somewhere,” he said with a smile.
In the interview, it was clear he was less pleased with the Legislature’s work on a billion-dollar borrowing measure and lawmakers’ plans for transportation. In the final moments of the session, lawmakers released and quickly voted on a bill to spend on state construction and maintenance of state buildings and $600 million in one-time spending on roads and bridges. Those plans never reached Dayton’s desk as the House and Senate ended the year.
Although Dayton said he wants a long-term plan to add more resources to transportation needs and would like the state to borrow for construction projects, he said he was glad their final measure did not reach his desk.
“It’s crafted as a political document,” he said of that bill. “It was more about their campaign brochures for next fall rather than good public policy and responsible government.”
He dismissed their transportation funding plans as a “fig leaf” designed to hide their inability to come up with a multiyear transportation investment plan and said the borrowing measure was riddled with errors in which they listed projects as funded that they did not fund and made math mistakes in their totals.
“It’s just really poorly done,” Dayton said.
As irksome as he found what he called their failures, Dayton said the fortune of the spending and tax measures will be independent in his mind of what lawmakers did not achieve in the bonding bill.

Special session?
As soon as the echo of the closing gavel faded in the House and Senate chambers Monday, legislative leaders said they wish to return for a special session so they can send Dayton a borrowing measure.
“What I think people care about is the money that was in the bill, and making sure that we get the bill passed and get the governor to call a special session so we can pass the bill,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a post-session tour of outstate Minnesota.
Bakk, too, has raised the specter of a special session.
In that area, too, Dayton has the controls. Only governors can call lawmakers back to the Capitol outside the parameters of a regular session. He has said he has not yet decided whether to do so, but if he does, he is ready to make some demands.
“I’ll have a list of requirements. They’re going to be constrained. They’re going to be focused on things I think are essential for Minnesota, such as higher education,” Dayton said. His demands will include funding for the health services center at the University of Minnesota, the price tag of which could alone eat up a sixth of the borrowing bill’s total spending. The borrowing measure lawmakers crafted included other higher-education projects, but not that one.
“Speaker Daudt told me on Monday that they knew that the Health Sciences building at the university was my number one priority, and there wasn’t room in the bonding bill for it,” Dayton said. “Well, there will have to be room before I call a special session.”
But the governor said he will also demand that the special session, if there is one, be limited. He has said that he thinks it unrealistic that Republicans and Democrats will solve their hard-wired transportation differences over what to fund and how to pay for it in a brief special session, and that there is time next year to change Minnesota’s driver’s licenses to suit federal requirements before 2018, when penalties will kick in for those who don’t have Real ID approved licenses.
After that potential special session, Dayton plans a road trip. He wants to visit all 87 Minnesota counties in 86 days this summer. He will be promoting his own priorities for the state, which include transportation funding, early-childhood investments and action to keep Minnesota water clear and clean.
He may do some campaigning for an all-Democratic Legislature along the way. Currently, the House is controlled by Republicans, and the Senate is controlled by the DFL.
“I’m not going to try to be rubbing people’s nose in the (Legislature’s) failures. People are aware of the failures,” he said. “I think this session, especially, and the one before are proof positive that divided government does not work.”

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David Montgomery contributed to this report.

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