Still no agreement on how to balance budget
ST. PAUL -- It is two weeks since the regular Minnesota legislative session adjourned without passing a state budget, and less than four weeks to a potential government shutdown, but Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders still cannot agree on how to finish their job.
Republicans on Monday night offered to spend at Dayton's higher level on school, public safety and courts programs, but the governor continued his insistence that an overall spending target should be the next step, not making deals in individual spending areas.
Dayton hosted legislative leaders for an hour-long Monday night meeting, and while participants called the talks constructive, no one could point to any advances toward a two-year budget.
The governor said he was slightly more optimistic the work could be done in time to avoid a government shutdown on July 1.
"I appreciate the offer the leaders made," he said.
That offer was to increase school, public safety and court spending $110 million over Republican-written budget bills, to meet Dayton's budget plan. Those areas take up nearly half of the GOP-proposed $34 billion budget in the next two years, but the GOP's Monday offer included nothing about the other half of the budget.
Republicans would not say how they propose paying for the increased spending. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said they could use money that had been planned to carry over to the next budget or cut spending in other areas.
"We made a significant, meaningful attempt," Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, said.
Dayton insists that Republicans find $1.8 billion in new revenue, such as his plan to increase taxes on the best-earning 2 percent of Minnesotans. Republicans refuse to consider spending more than $34 billion in the next two years; Dayton's budget adds up to $35.8 billion.
Without a budget deal by July 1, the state will run out of money and most state work could shut down with thousands of employees laid off.
The evening session was better than one earlier in the day that left GOP lawmakers upset because Dayton skipped the meeting with them about education funding.
"This morning, it was frustrating," Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said after the evening meeting. "This meeting was a good step forward."
Dayton said he apologized to Republicans for the mix-up and told reporters "we still have state government to run."
Tuesday meetings about transportation, courts, public safety and transportation funding are planned without Dayton.
"It is very difficult when the governor does not show up," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said.
Democrats said there is little that can be done until Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature come to an overall spending target.
"We're basically walking right into a state shutdown," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said about lack of an overall deal.
Kelly said that when lawmakers learned Dayton would not attend Monday morning's meeting, after they already were in his office, it felt like "somebody let all the air out of the room."
Stumpf, who lives as far away from the Capitol as any lawmaker, said he will follow news accounts to see if there is overall budget progress, but will not return to the Capitol until there is.
"I am going to be getting out of town as soon as I can," he said.
Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.