Minnesota’s self-induced legislative crisis nears end

St. Paul, Minnesota - State Capitol

Gov. Mark Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk have reached a tentative compromise on the bills vetoed by the governor, paving the way for an imminent special legislative session.

Having already abandoned his demand for universal voluntary early childhood programs, and more recently the repeal of (probably unconstitutional) provisions that would strip power from the State Auditor’s office, DFL Gov. Dayton floated a handful of smaller requests yesterday. Rural broadband. Mishmash. Some Here and there. In further negotiations, Dayton got a small percentage of his ask (no broadband add-ons, which continues a theme), and so here we go. The deal Minnesota gets is slightly different than what passed in the flurry of the end of session, but not dramatically so.

Gov. Mark Dayton’s statement on the tentative deal was as follows:

“We have reached tentative agreements on the remaining bills, which must be enacted to conclude the 2015 Legislative Session. I will call a Special Session, as soon as the four Caucus leaders and I have each reviewed and approved the proposed statutory language and have all signed a written agreement defining the session’s parameters.

“I am pleased that these agreements finally include $5 million to help Minnesotans with disabilities find and maintain employment, and to help prevent Minnesotans with mental illness from becoming homeless. They also add consumer protections to the Energy Intensive Trade Exposed (EITE) rate provision that will help the taconite and forest products industries in northeastern Minnesota. Finally, they add a provision giving the City of Rochester flexibility to use its local sales tax to support the Destination Medical Center economic development project.

“These resolutions to the bills I vetoed three weeks ago have been extremely difficult. Last fall, Minnesotans elected a divided state government, led by people with very different views about the role of government in our society; the optimal levels of state revenues and expenditures; and the policies and programs, which they should support.

“The sign of a true compromise is that no one is happy with it. Proponents and opponents of various policies across the political spectrum will be as unhappy with certain features as we, who ultimately had to accept them to avoid another government shutdown, the indefinite layoffs of 9,500 state employees, and severe disruptions of important public services.”

GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt, on the other hand, seemed perfectly fine with the deal:

“Minnesotans expect us to come to St. Paul and lead by working together. The House Republican majority’s aim from the beginning was bringing government spending more in line with family budgets. I’m proud to say, upon enactment, our budget will have the third lowest percent increase in general fund spending in over 50 years. We are targeting tax dollars toward our state’s priorities – E-12 students, roads and bridges, aging adults – and we are doing so without increasing the tax burden on hardworking Minnesotans. We are also taking swift action to address emerging issues like the avian flu outbreak on Minnesota farms and steelworker layoffs on the Iron Range,” said Speaker Daudt. “I’m pleased we can move forward with this tentative agreement today and pass a bipartisan budget that invests in Minnesotans’ needs while still respecting taxpayers.”

It’s true that shutting down the state government wasn’t a prudent strategy for any one side of this debate. In other words, there was no reason to play extreme chicken this year and if the DFL or GOP were to be “blamed” for doing so, the reaction would be deeply unfavorable. The state, for all practical purposes, is “fine” despite various points of contention all around.

The takeaway from this session, however, has less to do with the policy of this compromise, but the process of its conclusion. That was messed up. Things might be “fine” now, but if we had a more pressing budget or policy crisis, our system of divided government appears unable to respond maturely. No, this is not a “DFL and GOP are the same” post. They’re not, but what the session has shown is that certain actors seem to thrive in the muck of closed-door dealmaking and others don’t. Obviously, Gov. Dayton is not a “mudder,” but Tom Bakk clearly is. Well, maybe.

But I’d defy most Minnesotans to even accurately name what’s in these deals. They’re so convoluted that the state’s best political reporters practically have to lawyer up to write 500 words about them.

The attempt to privatize the State Auditor’s office, for instance, has almost no logical policy basis and seems more an outcropping of political shenanigans and think-tank ideas run out of control. While it will almost certainly be struck down by the state Supreme Court, it’s a whole *thing* that has to happen now, a thing that had no public support to begin with.

Meantime, the “rural issues session” — led by a supposedly rural-friendly GOP House — was a total bust. We had “rural” leaders in both houses, and rural people got less than they did in the last biennium.

Yes, voters will have their say. Rather than telling you to vote DFL or GOP in response to this mess, I’ll only recommend the following. If you see a politician who prefers to deal in private than negotiate in public, cast them out. We can only understand people of opposing views if we understand their motives and values. What values dictated the end of this session? This special session? If you can name them, you should apparently be an office-holder.

The true unfinished business of this session is legislative reform.


  1. David Gray says

    It was a Dayton screw up from beginning to end. You had a bipartisan budget vetoed over a difference of $25 million dollars. That was highly irresponsible for the governor to veto that bipartisan bill.

    If the provision regarding the auditor is indeed unconstitutional then the courts will sort it out. According to one local House Rep:

    “Every school district and city in Minnesota as well as 28 counties already have the option to seek competitive bids for their audits. This provision would give this option to the other 59 counties. ”

    If he’s correct this isn’t a big deal and simply extends a longstanding practice. If it is unconstitutional then it will be sorted out in the laundry. But of course Dayton didn’t veto that. He simply extended the controversy to include bills he had already signed. This comes across as both petulant and inept.

  2. Your apparent willingness, against all evidence, to absolve Dayton of any blame is either shallow or exhibits an agenda.

    This whole mess was not about a failure to compromise or about the split state house being unable to do their jobs; it was all about a childish, hold-my-breath-until-I-turn-blue-to-get-my-way governor, whose idea of negotiation is public name-calling and bombastic statements.

    This was nothing but Dayton thinking he could threaten a shutdown to get his way. This was evident in the initial justification for the vetoes, when all last minute attempt to compromise with ol’ Empty Eyes were rejected, but made crystal clear with his continuing to move the goal posts. This whole episode showed him to be the insolent, disdainful, and incompetent man he has always been.

  3. It’s been evident for a long time that the Minnesota Legislature has isolated itself from the people and needs the “legislative reform” you mention. Why is there so little mention of this? It also seems evident that many Range politicians are a powerful force for evil; a threat to the well-being of not only their own constituents but the entire state. Will the public recognize this? Will there be a backlash that reduces the future political clout of the Range? One can only hope…..

  4. David Gray says

    “It also seems evident that many Range politicians are a powerful force for evil”

    Compared to their DFL brethren from the Twin Cities they are saints…

  5. Great , we get a special session where Dayton, Bakk and Dauht can push through an agenda without the full vetting of our State Govt. The 3 Stooges can cause big damage to everyone with little debate from fellow elected officials.
    I like the whining our Governor did before he begrudgingly accepted a 540M increase in school spending over the next 2 yrs. When that doesn’t help a broken education system our next Governor will call for a 750M increase in 2 yrs. On and on the charade will go with the Sheeple falling in line because we all know if something is broke throwing good money after bad always works….. NOT!!!
    Politics has become polluted to the core and we need/deserve better.

    • David Gray says

      Yes, to Mark Dayton, self appointed butler to Education Minnesota, there cannot ever actually be a full funding of education. No amount will ever be sufficient.

  6. Interesting characterizations of the Governor in the comments. First, just as when someone says “it is not about the money” that one should immediately cover his wallet, so is the Auditor’s office gutting joint retaliation by collaboration with the Republicans all about not handing over public property to private profit. Bakk, a lifelong feeder at the public trough is paying back Otto for her dared protection of the public interest, rather than the wholesale sell off of our public resources. With his long record as shill for the extraction industry, (witness his collaboration for the school trust lands in 2011), he would be best characterized receiving money behind his back while he performs a Dutch rudder on mining executives; his supporters and fellow range legislators sit happily, licking crumbs off his feet. He made backroom deals benefitting his friends and added a covered parking space for himself and others which is very appropriate since vampires, whether blood or money feeding, do fear the sun.

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