Passage of the budget agreement reached by Republican legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton is by no means guaranteed — especially in the Senate, lawmakers said Friday.
Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, said he won’t support the deal unless it includes significant government reforms aimed at reducing state spending over the long-term. While Parry said he was speaking for himself, he believes others share his opinion that $1.4 billion in additional spending — based on money borrowed from schools and future tobacco company payments — is acceptable only if those reforms are attached.
“So if the governor is going to stand on no reform, this shutdown could last a very long time,” Parry said.
The governor’s office, however, touted the elimination of many of the Republican policy positions in an email Thursday night to Senate Democrats describing the budget framework agreed to earlier in the day. Attempts by GOP lawmakers to resurrect those provisions in budget bills this weekend could derail the agreement that promised to end the state’s 16-day-old government shutdown.
Walking a fine line
“I am worried about the Senate,” said Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder.
House Republicans are ready to back the deal agreed to by House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, Cornish said.
“I have no doubts right now about the House,” he said. “The Senate seems a little more dug-in.”
Cornish said there’s uncertainty about what sort of policy changes can be included in the budget bills.
“What was explained to us was ‘controversial policy and social issues’,” he said of what Dayton wants excluded as part of the deal worked out Thursday afternoon with House and Senate leaders.
But Cornish said there’s also been the suggestion that any policy changes could put the agreement in jeopardy. The basic message from legislative leaders was to not get carried away in attempts to revive policy changes as committees worked late into Friday night to craft specific budget bills.
“We’ve got the word, ‘The agreement has been reached, so don’t do anything that’s going to blow up the deal,’” Cornish said.
Insisting on reforms
Like Parry, who walked out of a Friday meeting with a member of Dayton’s cabinet because of a dispute over policy provisions, Sen. Al DeKruif said policy reform is critical to getting his vote for a final budget.
DeKruif said he doesn’t agree with the additional $1.4 billion in spending or with the school payment shift that supports $700 million of it, so he needs to see some of the Republican reform ideas coupled to the higher expenditures.
“If you’re not going to get something for that, then I don’t think it’s a good deal for Minnesota,” said DeKruif, a first-term Republican from Elysian. “I didn’t come here just to finish a budget. I came to change the direction were going and put us on a different trajectory.”
DeKruif mentions, as an example, his support for the provision in a vetoed K-12 education budget bill that eliminated school integration aid.
The aid goes to schools with a high percentage of minority students — and to neighboring schools with low diversity — when they work together on joint programs and curriculums. Three of the state’s largest school districts, however, receive a larger share of the integration aid and don’t have to submit a budget to the state on how the aid is used.
DeKruif said integration aid plays a role in some school districts receive a third less funding per student than other districts.
“That’s just too much of a disparity,” he said.
Dayton, who taught briefly in an inner-city school earlier in his life, has condemned the provision eliminating the integration aid and specifically mentioned it in vetoing the K-12 bill in May. And in Thursday’s email to DFLers from the governor’s office, protection of the integration aid was specifically listed as a victory in the budget deal.
To Parry, the chairman of the State Government Innovations and Veterans Committee, the reforms generated by that panel are crucial in driving down future state spending and reducing the likelihood of continuing budget shortfalls.
Including those changes might be necessary to get the votes of “those who really have a lot of heartburn over the education shift, who have a lot of heartburn over the tobacco bonds, who have a lot of heartburn over the bonding bill,” Parry said.
Sen. Gary Dahms, a Redwood Falls Republican whose district includes Brown County, couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. But Dahms said earlier this week that any deal would need to include policy changes that rein in the growth rate of state spending, which he considers unsustainable.
“We have to have some reform,” said Dahms, a freshman. “We can’t just continue to spend without making some changes.”
Fighting another day
Cornish said he, too, supports many of the reforms included in the original Republican budget bills vetoed by Dayton, but he suggested he’s willing to fight that battle in another session if a budget can be passed that would end the shutdown.
“Reform would be nice — big reform. But at this stage of the game, what I’m hearing from Minnesotans is ‘Get the job done,’” Cornish said.
One of the distinctions Cornish sees between the House and the Senate is that Zellers got a commitment in advance from rank-and-file House Republicans to back him up if he reached agreement with the governor.
“I think the difference is we gave our leadership the OK and the trust to cut the deal,” Cornish said. “I don’t think in the Senate they have that trust level.”
DeKruif and Parry were asked if they felt any obligation, after electing Koch as their majority leader, to support the deal she negotiated even if they don’t agree with it.
“I don’t think there’s been any agreement reached, first of all,” DeKruif said. “Second, when the governor said he’s agreed to an offer that we made (in late June). ... Well, part of that offer had some policy attached.”
Parry said his only responsibility is to vote in the way that he feels best represents the interests of his constituents.
“I have no obligation to this leadership,” he said.
Senate Republican leaders, who hold a 37-29 majority, can’t afford many defectors if they want to get the budget passed. If no Democrats support the deal, something Parry said the Senate GOP has been told is likely, the defection of four Republicans would block passage.
After talking to Senate colleagues on Friday, DeKruif wouldn’t put odds on getting a budget passed and putting and end to the shutdown — something Dayton, Zellers and Koch predicted would happen Monday or Tuesday.
“I’m not sure,” DeKruif said. “I’d just suggest: Stay tuned.”