It only took Governor Mark Dayton two hours to reject the first bill to reach his desk, vetoing the Republican majority’s first attempt at budget-cutting. House File 130, passed by the House and Senate on party-line votes, would have cut more than $901 million in state spending and extended the cuts made during last year’s special session. Dayton’s action underscores why many expect this session to be as challenging as any we have witnessed in recent years.

The budget legislation would have made close to $600 million in cuts to various tax aids and credits, primarily to city and county aid and the renter’s credit, $185 million in cuts to higher education, and $47.5 million to health and human services programs. In addition, the bill required that Governor Dayton cut $100 million in unencumbered state spending before June 30. The bill did not identify where those cuts should be made.

In his veto message, Dayton criticized the approach taken by the Republican leadership. According to estimates by the Department of Revenue, the bill would have raised property taxes by $428 million in the next biennium. According to the veto letter delivered by the governor, “[i]t would be a terrible mistake to target tax increases on the middle-class, on seniors, on lower-income renters, and on small businesses, while largely protecting the wealthiest Minnesotans from paying a fairer share of taxes.”

Dayton was also clearly frustrated with the Republican’s efforts to require him to make additional budget cuts. “[Y]ou would abdicate your responsibility to make those difficult spending choices and your power to determine those cuts to an appointed official of the Executive Department. That is both inappropriate and unconstitutional,” wrote Dayton. Finally, Dayton said that a “piecemeal approach” to addressing the state’s budget issues was inappropriate, calling for a comprehensive solution that considers all options and allows for public input.

Republican leadership quickly responded to the veto. From House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove: “Every governor gets his first veto letter, and his first good kick in the shins.” Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said they were “disappointed” to see the veto. They said they offered the budget-reduction bill before the February forecast in good faith. Koch said she is hopeful that this is not a sign of how the debate will go throughout the session.

In the wake of Governor Dayton’s veto, the House also passed a resolution establishing legislative deadlines for 2011. There is no yearly deadline for the introduction of bills. However, each year the legislature establishes deadlines for committee action on bills. Generally, the first deadline is for committees to act favorably on policy bills in the house of origin. The second deadline is for committees to act favorably on bills, or companion bills, that met the first deadline in the other house. The third deadline is for divisions of the House and Senate Committees on Finance to act favorably on omnibus appropriation bills.

This year, however, the Republican leadership has changed the playing field. Reflecting their commitment to addressing the state’s budget shortfall quickly and before policy issues are addressed, the following committee deadlines were set:

  • March 25, all finance bills must be out of their committees and sent to the House Ways and Means Committee for review;
  • April 29, the first deadline for policy bills; and
  • May 6, the second deadline for policy bills.

Requiring that all finance bills be delivered to the House Ways and Means Committee by March 25 does not automatically mean that early votes will be taken on the floor. However, it does provide a significant amount of time for negotiation of a budget package before the end of session in May. Governor Dayton will present his budget this Tuesday, February 15th. The governor’s budget, and the Republican leadership’s response, should provide some insight into just how protracted those negotiations may become.