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MN lawmakers claim a bonding victory as Dayton signs with objections

Making a point, Gov. Mark Dayton announces on Wednesday, May 30, 2018, that had signed a public works bill funding projects across Minnesota. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers finally have a major victory.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton handed Republicans who control the Legislature veto after veto in recent days, killing most funding, policy and tax legislation for the year. But on Wednesday, May 30, the governor signed a bill sending nearly $1.5 billion to construction projects around the state.

But Dayton was not happy about it.

"I am signing this bill, despite my objections, because areas throughout Minnesota need the projects and the jobs, which it will provide," Dayton wrote in a letter to legislative leaders. "However, the GOP majorities set an arbitrary, ill-founded and woefully inadequate limit to the total size of the bill."

General tax money will repay $825 million of money borrowed for projects ranging from roof repairs to major renovation of a few buildings, with the rest coming from cash and other sources. Much of the money will be raised by the state selling bonds.

Early this year, Dayton proposed a $1.5 billion bonding bill, but also supported local projects that would have brought the total to $2.3 billion.

"The bill itself is so inadequate for funding," he complained.

For instance, higher education did not get enough, Dayton said, and transit got nothing.

Republicans and groups that will get money from the bill were happy.

"“It is good to see the governor made it official by putting his signature on a very good package, which features geographic balance, sticks to the priorities and focuses on infrastructure, all while respecting the taxpayers," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who led the House's bonding bill effort. "It’s been a long process and, through it all, we operated under the notion that Minnesotans expect us to maintain public infrastructure, that we should take care of the property we own."

Urdahl said the $25 million for school safety projects was a top priority.

Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said cities did well with Dayton's signature. "This bill includes critical funding for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, transportation projects, economic development initiatives, colleges and universities and other numerous projects that are important to Greater Minnesota cities."

Clean water projects were a Dayton highlight, with $133 million. "They did not provide all that I wanted ... but it is in that general neighborhood," the governor said.

The water projects are sewage and water treatment plants and related work. Small cities, in particular, will be helped, Dayton said, because they cannot afford to build new treatment plants themselves.

Even though the $180 million headed to higher education is not what state-owned schools need, Dayton said, it was among the biggest categories.

Republicans who control the Legislature emphasized preserving existing state facilities, and set aside $145 million for that work.

Housing received $90 million, local projects $311 million and transportation $544 million.

Current veterans' homes will get $9 million for repairs, and $32 million is set aside to help build new homes in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston. Federal funds are being sought, too.

"It’s hard to put into words just how pleasing it is to get the governor’s signature on this bill," Rep. Matt Bliss, R-Pennington, said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, also was happy. "It’s a perfect combination of investments to rebuild safer roads, maintain statewide infrastructure, care for our veterans and address mental health emergencies. It’s big enough to make a significant difference in Minnesotans’ lives, but not so big to put future budgets at risk."

The only item Dayton vetoed from the bill was $1 million for what he called a "new and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy" to review the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s scientific work.

Sulfate bill vetoed again

Dayton vetoed legislation to establish a Minnesota task force to study how to best protect wild rice water.

Instead of the legislative plan, the Democratic governor said on Wednesday that he is establishing his own task force to report recommendations by Dec. 15.

Dayton said the Republican-written bill's study group did not include a broad enough membership.

Under the vetoed bill, the panel could take some action on its own, which Dayton called unconstitutional. Also, he said, it would be "offensive to the native American tribes, who place great significance on wild rice. By contrast, the task force I am creating will provide the opportunity to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to work on practical measures to protect and restore wild rice."

Dayton said he has ordered the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to enforce federal Clean Water Act standards, but not a sulfate limitation set forth in a 1975 Minnesota law and never enforced.

The veto is the second time this year that Dayton has rejected similar bills.

Environmentalists thanked Dayton for the veto.

"We should be continuing an inclusive conversation about how to leverage our resources to protect the future of our wild rice waters," Executive Director Steve Morse of Minnesota Environmental Partnership said. "By vetoing this bill, the governor has ensured that we can continue to have that discussion and work toward a long-term solution."

Protest bill killed

The governor vetoed legislation to increase penalties for people found guilty of protesting on property with critical infrastructure.

Dayton said the bill was meant to keep protests away from crude oil pipeline projects such as Enbridge Energy's Line 3 replacement in northern Minnesota. He said three existing laws would take care of protecting infrastructure.

People on both sides of the issue talked about the North Dakota pipeline protest that cost state and local governments large amounts of money. Some opponents of Line 3 have promised to conduct the same type of protests in Minnesota if the state allows it to be built.

Dayton said part of the reason for his veto was that people who train protesters also could be prosecuted. "Guilt by association" is what Dayton called it.

Met Council remains as is

The Metropolitan Council, which governs many things in Twin Cities communities, will remain unchanged after Dayton vetoed a GOP bill to change it.

The bill would have put local elected officials on the council, replacing unelected representatives. However, Dayton said, that could lead to conflicts of interest as leaders of local communities make decisions affecting their neighboring towns.

No special elder session

Those fighting for new laws to protect the elderly in nursing homes and other facilities should not expect expect a special legislative session to deal with the issue.

Dayton Wednesday rejected state Sen. Karin Housley's call for special session after Dayton vetoed her elder abuse provisions that were part of a 990-page bill containing most budget and policy items from the 2018 session.

"I wish they had sent me a separate bill, and they should have worked with me," Dayton said when asked about the St. Mary's Point Republican senator's request.

She held a news conference outside Dayton's office just before his announcement that he signed the public works bill.

"It is a political stunt on her part," Dayton said of Housley, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Next chapter starts

Dayton is to sign a pension bill Thursday to help 500,000 government workers and retirees, the final bill of the 2018 session, and then his life changes.

The 71-year-old governor said he is "still formulating" what to do the rest of the year, before his term ends next Jan. 8.

"I literally have not cleared my desk or my brain," he said Wednesday when asked about his plans for the rest of 2018 as a lame duck governor.

"I want to make myself useful for the next seven months," he added.

Since he will not be around for the next legislative session, he will not need to prepare a budget and policy proposals for the Legislature. Those are jobs governors undertake in the final months of the year.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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