House, Senate pass budget bills while budget talks meander

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

The tone of debate as the Republican-controlled Legislature churned out budget bills today (Wednesday, May 18)  at times seemed strangely detached.

“Anyway, back to King Tut,” said Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, during an interlude in Senate floor debate on the omnibus state government finance bill this morning.

Pappas’ talk on the wonders of the Science Museum of Minnesota — a talk including mention of lingering questions about the causes of pharaohs’ deaths — had Republican leaders this afternoon charging Democrats were engaging in “pitiful stall tactics.”

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, charged such perceived tactics were “beneath these (House and Senate) bodies.”

But Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, also directed their displeasure toward Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, using words like “erratic,” a word used in Republican election campaigns against Dayton, to describe the governor’s perceived budget negotiation style.

“It’s hard to have words to say how I feel about the governor’s leadership, or lack of leadership thereof, on the issues,” said Koch. “We need some leadership from the man in the corner office,” she said.

But Koch and Zellers insist there’s plenty of time for the legislative session, in its  final days, to end successfully. “It will come together on time,” said Koch.

But the question of revenue remains a sticking point. Republicans are unwilling to spend more than $34 billion over the next two years — unwilling to raise taxes.

Dayton in a recent offer to Republicans indicated a willingness to accept $35.8 billion in spending, but he also wants a $1.8 billion in additional revenue.

But Dayton today, meeting briefly with reporters in the Capitol corridor, indicated he’s seen no signs of flexibility on the part of Republicans in budget talks. “They want it all their way,” he said.

“I’m suppose to go over there and agree with their budget in its entirely. That’s not reasonable, that’s not responsible,” said Dayton. “And that’s not going to happen,” he said.

Dayton again expressed an unwillingness to sign the Republican budget bills until he agrees with them all — a global budget target reached. “Time is extremely limited,” he said of the few days left in the session.

The governor is expected to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate Republican caucuses Thursday afternoon. The meeting will not be open to the press.

The governor signed into a law a handful on nonbudget bills today.

The omnibus finance bills are passing out of House and Senate.

The House yesterday passed the omnibus K-12 finance bill on a 70-55 vote. And it passed the omnibus higher education finance bill on a 69-57 vote.

Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, was one of two Republicans to vote against the higher education bill.

Banaian teaches at St. Cloud State University.

The House yesterday also passed the omnibus tax bill on a 71-58 vote.

“How do you justify that,” asked Rep. Tom Tillberry, DFL-Fridley, of a tax credit families could use to help cover the cost of private school tuition for their children.

Tillberry argued the size of the state budget deficit was too big for such largess.

The House took up the omnibus environment, energy and natural resources finance bill this afternoon.

Omnibus finance bills remaining before the House include jobs, public safety and judiciary, transportation, state government finance, and health and human services.

The Senate on Tuesday passed the omnibus judiciary and public safety finance bill on a 36-28 vote.

“The budget still maintains core services, while slightly improving the budget to public defenders,” said Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Chairman Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, in a statement.

The Senate today passed the omnibus state government finance bill today on a 37-29 vote.

It debated the omnibus health and human services finance bill into the evening.

The controversial proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage passed out of the House Rules Committee this morning and is headed to the House floor.

The bill passed the Senate a week ago,

The regular legislative session ends on Monday.

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