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Dayton signs budget bills and avoids shutdown, despite 'terrible' environment bill

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Gov. Mark Dayton has signed all the budget bills hammered out in Friday's special session of the Legislature, his office said in a news release Saturday afternoon - thus ending the possibility of a government shutdown on July 1.

Lawmakers finally passed the three bills vetoed by Gov. Dayton last month – education, environment/agriculture, and jobs/energy – and a handful of others in the early hours of Saturday morning after a day of negotiations, maneuvering and amendments, according to WCCO

Much of the controversy centered on the environment and agriculture bill that failed to pass the Senate the first time, with DFL members railing against some of the items included in the bill by Republicans.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, Dayton referred to the bill as "terrible" and said he would work to undo some of the policy changes included in it over the next few years, but said that it was important he sign off on the bills to avoid a shutdown.

"Many compromises had to be made during this legislative session; and many people, across the political spectrum, believe it suffered from too many missed opportunities," Dayton said in the release. “One positive result, however, is that the remaining surplus, combined with the budgeted reserve and cash flow account, has left the state with a positive balance of almost $2.5 billion. It stands in welcome contrast to the financial uncertainties of recent years."

Now that the new two-year budget is complete, the threat of layoffs for almost 10,000 state workers has passed. It also means that Minnesota's state parks can continue taking camping reservations, having said that it would have to shut down its booking service if an agreement wasn't reached by June 15.

Speaking of the enviro/ag bill, Dayton said: "It’s not going to set environmental progress back in Minnesota, because I won’t let it," according to MPR News.

The enviro/ag bill included a provision to scrap a citizens' board which provides public oversight of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as giving mining companies exemptions from solid waste rules – both of which were opposed by many DFLers.

The Star Tribune notes that Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville had called the bill "environmental vandalism" while Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, described it as "a historic step backwards."

Dayton also signed off on $373 million worth of public works projects to be partially funded by state bonds, which includes a $140 million project to reroute Highway 53 in the Iron Range to allow for a mining company to expand its operations.

Here's an overview of how the House and the Senate reached an agreement last night.

Special session wraps up as environment bill passes

Crowded into the two committee rooms in the State Office Building (with the Capitol renovations rendering it out of action), it was well past midnight by the time lawmakers could close a suspenseful temporary session.

While the bill securing $525 million of extra funding for Minnesota's public schools was passed by the DFL-controlled Senate and GOP-run House, along with a jobs and energy bill, proceedings ground to a halt because of the controversial $780 million environment and agriculture bill.

In mid-afternoon, the bill failed to pass the Senate as it could not get the 34 votes it needed – what followed was an extraordinary sequence of amending and bargaining that sent the session into the small hours.

The Pioneer Press reports that despite a pre-session deal between Dayton, DFL Senate leader Tom Bakk and GOP House leader Kurt Daudt not to amend any of the bills put before the special session after a bipartisan deal was struck earlier this week, Senate DFLers came back with an altered enviro/ag bill which restored the MPCA's citizen review board and removing the mining exemptions.

Despite reservations by Sen. Bakk about amending the bill and going back on the pre-session agreement, the revised bill passed the Senate by a vote of 40-26 and was sent to the House.

Unsurprisingly, the House GOP was less than pleased at being handed a bill that removed items they had fought to include, and decided to simply remove the Senate's changes and revert back to the original – sending it back to the Senate, MPR reports.

This time, DFL leaders had secured enough votes to ensure the original bill passed – voting in favor of it by 38-29, allowing bleary-eyed lawmakers to make their way home.

You can read an overview of what provisions the enviro/ag budget bill contains here.

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