With four weeks to go before the Minnesota Legislature is set to adjourn, the DFL governor and the Republican leaders of House and Senate remain divided over how to address the $5 billion projected budget shortfall.
GOP leaders barnstormed the state Monday, holding news conferences promoting spending cuts. For his part, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton stressed his belief that the solution must involve tax increases on the state's top earners.
Prior to setting off of their statewide tour, Republican legislative leaders spoke with reporters at the St. Paul airport. House Speaker Kurt Zellers said the purpose of the GOP fly-around was to explain to Minnesotans that they have a choice between either cutting spending and, in his words, "living within their means," or raising taxes.
"If we keep doing the things we used to do and expect a different outcome, well, that hasn't worked and that's why we're in a $5 billion deficit," Zellers said.
Zellers said the other choice is to raise taxes by "over $2.5 billion on the hard-working taxpayers of the state of Minnesota." He said those two choices was the message he and the other GOP leaders were taking across the state Monday.
As Zellers and the other Republicans were flying to Rochester for the second of their eight news conferences, Dayton was on Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning program calling on the GOP lawmakers to present him with a budget that, in Dayton's words, is "honest." Dayton maintains some of the numbers and assumptions Republicans are using in their budget plan are not based in reality.
"Now the House and Senate have each passed one based on some very questionable assumptions so they have about a $1.2 billion gap," Dayton said. "They can't even produce their own balanced budget, so I mean it's fine to talk about mine. But their job now is to pass their own budget and then we can all look and see how does their budget compare to mine."
But Republicans claim their numbers are sound.
Under Dayton's proposal, the top five percent of Minnesota income earners would see an increase in their income taxes. Even so, Republican critics say Dayton's tax increase is not the "tax the rich" approach Dayton campaigned on, that the tax would hit what Republicans are calling "average, working" families.
Dayton said he is open to possibly increasing the threshold at which the tax would kick in, from its current $85,000 in taxable income for single filers or $150,000 for married couples filing jointly.
"Their position is they don't want to raise taxes $1 on somebody making a half a million a year, $1 million a year, $5 million dollars a year," Dayton said. "They hide behind this fig leaf of the bottom of my proposed bracket and you know, if they don't agree with that starting point, then why don't they propose to raise it?"
But Dayton made it clear he will not begin negotiating away elements of his budget until Republicans present him with a legitimate budget of their own.
Dayton also left the door open for additional state-sponsored gambling saying he would consider "any source of revenue." But Dayton said the Legislature would first have to pass a bill and that he would want the majority of proceeds from any gambling expansion to go to education programs.
The Legislature reconvenes Tuesday following its Easter/Passover break. Dayton will have breakfast with Republicans leaders in morning. He'll have lunch with DFL legislative leaders on Wednesday.