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Dayton issues challenge to GOP: No tax cuts without more preschool funding

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Gov. Mark Dayton is already laying out his priorities for next year's budget session - saying he won't sign any tax cut proposals from Republicans without an increase in funding for early childhood education programs.

Dayton, a DFLer, pushed lawmakers in the just-ended legislative session to approve hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for universal preschool for all children in the state. In the end, he got a boost of $525 million for general education funding, but very little was specifically allotted to preschool programs.

At an event Tuesday that highlighted Minnesota's top ranking in a new report on the well-being of children, Dayton issued a warning to Republican legislative leaders who are expected to push for large tax cuts in the next legislative session, MPR News reports.

The Kids Count report ranked all 50 states across a series of 16 indicators, and found Minnesota first overall in child well-being.

However, it’s “obvious,” the report press release says, that black and American Indian children in the state have a more difficult path than whites.

Dayton said making preschool available to more children is key to closing that achievement gap, WCCO reports.

"I want to lay down the marker that we're not done here," Dayton said, according to the Associated Press, although he didn't provide any specifics about the new funding he would seek.

The two-year budget approved in June still has an expected surplus of nearly $900 million, after Dayton and Republican leaders couldn't agree on a package of tax cuts or a transportation funding bill.

Those issues are expected to be taken up in next year's session. And most expect GOP leaders will press hard for a large tax cut package, the Associated Press notes.

In response to Dayton's remarks, GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he doesn't like ultimatums.

“We shouldn’t ... say that I’m not going to give you this if you don’t give me that,” said Daudt, according to MPR News. “Why don’t we look at all of those areas individually and do what’s right in each of those areas?”

The budget surplus could potentially grow even larger by the end of the year. State officials said earlier this month that tax collections were $550 million higher than originally budgeted, and another budget update will be released in November.

The next legislative session begins March 8.

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