ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans want to decide whether gay marriage is allowed, Republican lawmakers said Tuesday in announcing they are promoting a constitutional amendment to define a marriage as between one man and one woman.

"This issue constantly comes up during legislative sessions and it's time for the people to decide," said state Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. "Allowing a small number of politicians, or activist judges, in St. Paul to decide the definition of marriage would not be acceptable."

Limmer and other Republicans propose a constitutional amendment defining marriage. If the Legislature passes it, it will go in front of voters in the November 2012 election.

Gov. Mark Dayton strongly opposes banning gay marriages, but constitutional amendments do not need the governor's approval. On Tuesday, he said an amendment is not needed because state law already does the same thing.

A law can be changed any time the Legislature is in session, while a constitutional amendment is more difficult to modify.

Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill helps no one.

"What family does this help in Minnesota, especially in this time of economic crisis?" asked Dibble, who is openly gay.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Tower, said the budget is this legislative session's main job, and issues such as gay marriage should wait until next year.

Variances allowed

The Senate voted 64-0 to restore local government authority to approve construction that goes against zoning codes.

The House is expected to follow within days.

The Minnesota Supreme Court last year revoked cities' authority to grant variances to city and county ordinances.

"There is a line up for some variance requests, which ultimately means some jobs for people," Sen. Gen Olson, R-Minnetrista, said.

An example of what the court decision stopped was that before the ruling city officials could allow a deck to be built closer to a property line than an ordinance would allow.

Dayton wants action

What Gov. Mark Dayton sees as lack of progress in completing a two-year budget leaves him upset.

With 27 days left in the 2010 legislative session, Dayton gave lawmakers a May 6 deadline to pass all budget bills and send them to him. If that unenforceable deadline is not met, he said that he would be less optimistic that work can be finished by the Legislature's May 23 constitutional deadline to adjourn.

The Democratic governor said that so far, Republican legislative leadership "resisted the requirement that they develop an honest and balanced budget."

It was his strongest criticism yet.

Dayton said the GOP budget plans fall $1 billion short of the $34 billion they want to spend in the next two years.

"They have made one excuse after another," Dayton said.

The governor complained that few budget negotiation sessions are planned for this week to work out differences between budget bills the House and Senate already passed.

It is lawmakers' job to produce a budget before he begins negotiating with them, he said. "I'm not going to wade into their swamp and chose between their alligator and their crocodile."

Jeb Bush visits

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush wowed Republican legislators Tuesday when he said they are on the right track to reforming Minnesota education.

The brother of former President George W. Bush said he likes Minnesota's plan to grade schools' performance and to press to make sure all children know how to read by the time they leave third grade.

Among Republican Bush's predictions for the near future: "We will see the elimination of textbooks."

Bush and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton met briefly and Bush talked about a Florida plan he implemented "to teach teachers to teach" reading. He said that he discovered teachers did not have the latest reading information.

Dayton pointed out that when Bush was governor, Florida increased education spending but Minnesota Republicans want to hold spending nearly static.

While in St. Paul, Bush told reporters that he "can't see" getting into the presidential race and praised likely presidential candidate and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.