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Published February 10, 2011, 05:12 PM

Dayton Vetoes $900M in Cuts from GOP-controlled Legislature

Gov. Mark Dayton swiftly struck down a Republican-crafted package that would cut $900 million from Minnesota's $6.2 billion deficit on Thursday, issuing his first veto as governor.

By: Martiga Lohn, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton swiftly struck down a Republican-crafted package that would cut $900 million from Minnesota's $6.2 billion deficit on Thursday, issuing his first veto as governor.

The Democratic governor rejected the bill within hours of its final passage by the Legislature, saying it would lead to higher property taxes and represented "misguided" spending priorities. Aid to local governments, public colleges and social service programs were most affected by the bill, which Republicans passed without Democratic support.

"Budget decisions are reflections of priorities," Dayton said in a veto letter to lawmakers. He also objected to the hurry-up consideration of the bill, which gave only a partial peek at how the Legislature would solve the $6.2 billion deficit.

The bill also would have forced Dayton to find $100 million of savings from state agency accounts. He said that was improper, because they didn't outline what spending would go.

The action comes a day after Dayton stood before the Legislature in a State of the State address to urge cooperation rather than confrontation.

Republicans lack the numbers to override him. The bill got to Dayton after a party-line 37-28 vote in the Senate, a day after it cleared the House on a 68-61 vote with three Republicans voting no.

Majority Republicans said they aim to start cutting the deficit immediately. Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Claire Robling, the bill's Senate sponsor, compared it to weeding an overgrown garden a few rows each day.

"We're trying to take a piece at a time and solve it," said Robling, R-Jordan.

Senate Taxes Committee Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the bill is a "reality check" for Dayton.

The package would reduce state allowances for cities and counties, public colleges and social service programs, while requiring the executive branch to eliminate another $100 million in state spending before July.

Democrats accused Republicans of indirectly prompting higher property taxes by cutting local government aid. They also predicted higher tuition and hardships for needy groups such as abused children and people with disabilities.

"It appears to me that your motto of no tax increases is no longer on the table," Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbook.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk set off a heated debate when he criticized a provision that would remove a limit on payments to landowners enrolled in a sustainable forest management program. Bakk said the provision would send $7.4 million to out-of-state companies, after the state has already bought development rights to some of the land.

Three large timber companies sued the state of Minnesota last week over the caps on payments.

Democrats also warned that the immediate cuts could put unspent money for veterans and military programs at risk, even though the bill puts some specific appropriations in those areas off limits.

Republicans noted that most of the cuts extend reductions made last year when Democrats controlled the Legislature. Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel said he agreed with Dayton's assessment of Minnesota's financial situation in his first State of the State speech as a "horrendous fiscal mess."

"When you're left with a mess, it's time to clean it up," Michel said.