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Lt. Gov. Tina Smith: Why Won't The Legislature Compromise On Education?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Gov. Mark Dayton is not wavering in his threat to veto any education bill that doesn't include more money for Minnesota schools and funding for universal pre-K, his top officer said on Sunday.

Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, who was a guest on WCCO Sunday Morning, said the governor is still "absolutely determined" to do what he thinks is right.

"The governor has been really, really clear," Smith said. "He expects he's not going to sign into law an education bill that doesn't do what he believes is really important for our future."

Specifically, that means expanding the popular universal kindergarten program to include universal pre-K for Minnesota's 4-year-olds.

"Everyone agrees that that's the right thing to do," Smith said. "What we are debating at the Capitol is: What's the right way of doing that?"

On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (D-Cook) and House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) proposed a compromise budget deal that would bring $400 million to education. However, it doesn't include funding for the governor's pre-K plan, and it falls short of the dollar amount Dayton wants to put toward Minnesota's schools.

Bakk and Daudt also hashed out pieces of the budget, with plans to put money aside to help poultry workers devastated by the bird flu epidemic, Minnesota's state parks and college students.

"They did get a lot worked out, just not on education," Smith said. "[That's] the most important thing to us."

If Dayton vetoes the bill to fund education, the Department of Education could be forced into a shutdown and hundreds of education employees could be laid off.

But for Smith and the governor, it's not about the veto. Instead, they ask: Why won't the Legislature compromise?

"The thing that people have to keep in mind," Smith said, "is that if we go past July without an education bill, it's like a little mini shutdown of the education infrastructure in the state."

That, she said, would hurt teachers and students most – not employees of the Education Department.

Lawmakers only have until Monday to come up with a budget deal before the legislative sessions ends and renovation construction at the Capitol gets underway. Still, Smith is confident that an agreement can be reached.

"We have two days left," Smith said. "While that doesn't seem like a long time, in legislative time, it is an eon."

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