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Clock runs out on the 2015 Legislature with some funding bills left in limbo

House Speaker Kurt Daudt gavels the end of the 2015 session Monday at midnight. The House is scheduled to reconvene March 8, 2016, at noon. Photo by Paul Battaglia
House Speaker Kurt Daudt gavels the end of the 2015 session Monday at midnight. The House is scheduled to reconvene March 8, 2016, at noon. Photo by Paul Battaglia

After 10 years of budget deficits, a projected nearly $2 billion surplus led to hopes of tax breaks, more money for education and repairs to the state’s roads. But when the House and Senate adjourned late Monday night, some of those priorities were left on the table, potentially until the Legislature reconvenes on March 8, 2016.

It is up to the governor to decide whether he will call a special session to deal with the $540 million omnibus legacy bill passed by the House in the last minutes, leaving no time for it to get through the Senate.

A bill giving the Office of the Revisor of Statutes permission to do necessary cleanup language to the 2015 laws was not acted upon, either. And if Gov. Mark Dayton vetoes the education finance bill that he deems to be underfunded, it, too, could necessitate a special session.

With a deluge of DFL questions and discussion on bills before the body throughout the evening, it was a struggle for House Republicans to finish passing the lineup of bills that would spend $41.5 billion from the General Fund in the 2016-17 biennium.

Eight of the 10 major spending bills made it through the Legislature over the last day. They would fund:

  • health and human services;
  • E-12 education;
  • transportation;
  • judiciary and public safety;
  • state government operations;
  • environment, natural resource and agriculture;
  • higher education; and
  • jobs and energy programming.

The $17 billion E-12 education funding bill — including $400 million in new spending — passed both bodies under a threat of a gubernatorial veto. As session came to a close, the governor had yet to receive the bill from the revisor’s office for his consideration, so its fate remains uncertain.

Left on life-support, possibly until the 2016 session convenes, are the omnibus taxes and transportation bills, which remain in the purview of their respective conference committees. Disagreement on the amount of tax credits proposed and funding for road projects were the bills’ sticking points.

Visitors to the House Chamber watch floor debate from the gallery on the last day of the regular session, May 18. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The House was able to act on the $540 million omnibus legacy finance bill with minutes remaining before adjournment; however, there was not enough time left on the clock for the Senate to act. The future for the projects funded in the bill is uncertain at this time.

Reactions to the 2015 session were swift.

“You know what? We got our work done,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said in a press briefing following session. “Obviously, it was a little rushed at the end because the Senate took a little longer than we thought getting the last budget bill out of the Senate.”

Daudt is disappointed a comprehensive transportation bill couldn’t be passed this year and faulted the governor’s insistence on a gas tax as the reason. “We were able to stop that. We’ve left a significant amount of money on the bottom line. We’ll come back next year.”

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) called the rushed passage of the jobs and energy bill during the last minute of session “an absolute fitting end to this session, a session of failures, of incredible opportunities and expectations, but failures right down the board.

“You just saw the end here on a jobs bill that was passed without even having a bill in front of members … with a significant amendment that was added in the Senate that we have no idea what it was. This is not the way to run a Legislature.”

He referenced the first major payment to nursing homes in 30 years as a session accomplishment.

“With the exception of nursing homes, nothing was accomplished.”

Session Daily writer Sue Hegarty contributed to this story 

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