ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers started assembling budget bills Saturday with no guarantee Gov. Mark Dayton would sign them, as the Democratic governor and Republican legislative leaders searched for a last-minute deal to finalize a spending package.
Facing a midnight deadline to finish its work or else require an overtime session, the Legislature was bracing for long nights as it planned to keep going through the weekend. And even after Republican leaders decided Friday they’d risk potential vetoes by starting to send Dayton budget bills before reaching an agreement, the two sides met sporadically Saturday to keep chipping away at their lingering disagreements.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said those talks gave him hope there was time to reach a deal to finish the budget on time and veto-free.
“There’s progress in every area, every budget,” he said.
But the clock is ticking, and Dayton and Republicans are still at odds on many fronts — from the final size of the state’s next two-year budget to how much of a $1.65 billion surplus should go to tax relief and transportation fixes. Committees started releasing reworked budget bills Saturday that showed other potential problems, too.
An environment budget would delay by a year Dayton’s marquee water quality measure requiring buffer strips between crops and public waterways slated to take effect in November. That’s a shorter pause than previous GOP attempts, but Dayton has repeatedly said any delay would trigger his veto.
Republicans’ retooled spending package for courts and public safety agencies would levy harsher penalties on protesters who block freeway traffic. An economic development budget released Saturday wouldn’t block cities from raising the minimum wage or creating sick leave policies as Democratic organizations have feared. It would, however, stop them from imposing individual ordinances banning plastic bags. Minneapolis plans to launch such an ordinance this summer.
Dayton warned the Legislature to drop those kinds of changes so the budget work doesn’t devolve into arguments over controversial policy.
“I’ve said all along if there’s anything in the budget bills, anything controversial, we’re into June,” he said Friday night.
Republicans were holding firm to their prized $660 million tax bill, over Dayton’s objections that cutting that much from the state’s tax collections would imperil a streak of state budget surpluses. Lawmakers were still working out what tax cuts would make the final cut, from property tax breaks for farmers and small businesses to a big sales tax cut for premium cigars.