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Veto of Education Bill Sets Minnesota Up for Special Session

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the state's education budget Thursday, setting up a special session of the Legislature in the coming weeks.

By David Montgomery

Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the state's education budget Thursday, setting up a special session of the Legislature in the coming weeks.

Dayton had promised to veto the budget earlier this week but couldn't use his veto power until the bill was officially presented to him. That happened Wednesday night. At 3:36 p.m. the next day, Dayton put his veto stamp on the $17 billion education spending plan for 2016-17.

"The bill's total investment of $400 million is insufficient given the state's large surplus," Dayton wrote in his veto letter. "Also unacceptable is the absence of any version of voluntary, universal pre-kindergarten which will help 47,000 4-year-olds, which has been my number one priority in this session."

State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie and the chair of the House's education finance committee, said she was "disappointed" in the veto.

"Our education budget was the picture of bipartisanship -- where both sides came together to do what is right for our youngest Minnesotans," Loon said in a statement. "I am disappointed that Governor Dayton is forcing a special session over an education bill that garnered such strong support from both sides of the aisle and made a significant financial commitment to our students."

The DFL-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House each passed the education bill after House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk struck a deal setting the $400 million figure that Dayton saw as insufficient. Bakk said he wanted more spending on schools and early-childhood education but couldn't get Daudt to agree.

In negotiations on the final day of session, the two sides were as close as $25 million but couldn't reach a deal on time.

Unless an education budget becomes law by the start of the new fiscal year July 1, the state Department of Education would largely shut down. Though payments to schools would still be authorized, the officials who process those payments would be laid off, leaving the fate of that school money in question.

Dayton is planning to call lawmakers back to a special session to pass a new jobs bill that can meet with his approval. Because of renovations in the House and Senate chambers, that special meeting will have to happen outside the Capitol. Lawmakers are required to convene in the city of St. Paul and could meet in another building or even on the Capitol lawn.

When they return for the special session, they'll also be able to take up other unfinished business, including a bill to borrow money for Capitol improvements, disaster relief and the U.S. 53 route relocation between Eveleth and Virginia, and a bill to spend money on the arts and environment.

The governor made no decisions on the other budget bills on his desk. Some interest groups have urged him to veto the agriculture and environment budget. Dayton has until Saturday to sign or veto the budget bills, or let them become law without his signature.

Though Dayton dropped his demand for universal preschool in final negotiations, he's not giving up on the idea. On Friday, he is to visit a preschool classroom at Apple Valley's Westview Elementary to promote his plan for more investments in early-childhood education.

(c)2015 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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