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State budget endgame: No deal yet on education funding

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It's (almost) down to the wire for Minnesota state lawmakers, who are planning to work well into the night and through Sunday to finish deliberations on a $40 billion two-year state budget before their adjournment deadline of midnight Monday.

Leaders of the House and Senate announced Friday night they had reached agreement on all major aspects of the budget.

But Gov. Mark Dayton is unhappy with the spending levels for education and is threatening a veto, which is complicating the normal mad dash to the end of the session.

Dayton said at a press conference Saturday morning he won’t sign a budget package that features only an extra $400 million for E-12 education, which was tentatively agreed upon by Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.

DFL leaders in the House released a letter Saturday afternoon saying they support the governor’s position on the education funding issue.

Dayton proposed an additional $700 million in spending for E-12 education to offer universal pre-kindergarten throughout the state, but said he would accept a compromise of $550 million.

He has threatened to veto any education bill that lands on his desk with only $400 million it.

"I'll say it again: I'm going to veto $400 million because it's wrong for the people of Minnesota, the parents of Minnesota, the schoolchildren of Minnesota. It's wrong," Dayton said in a news release.

Bakk responded a few hours later, warning that it would be "risky" for Dayton to veto the education bill, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, because if he does so, Republicans may respond by offering even less money for schools.

The impasse has raised the specter of a special session next week if a deal can’t be reached by midnight on Monday.

Or worse, no education budget at all for an undetermined length of time.

What happens if there's no education deal?

House and Senate leaders say if that happens, schools would still receive funding at current levels.

But the commissioners of education and management and budget both warned of "catastrophic" consequences if no education bill is passed, according to MPR News.

A memo they released Saturday said the Department of Education would have to shut down and its 400 employees would be laid off; no one would be on staff to process payments to schools.

In addition, the commissioners said the lack of a funding increase will force school districts to cut budgets and lay off teachers.

The midnight Monday deadline is mandated by the state Constitution. If lawmakers need extra time to finish their work, they could meet in a special session.

But that's complicated this year by the renovations going on at the Capitol building. Construction workers are scheduled to start dismantling the House chambers on Tuesday. So there could potentially be no space for legislators to gather.

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