With just four days left in the legislative session and no budget agreement in sight, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton met privately Thursday with Republican lawmakers to try to jump-start negotiations.
Dayton's closed-door sales pitch didn't appear to sway any GOP House or Senate members, who remain opposed to his plan to raise income taxes.
It was a tough crowd for Dayton. He met for an hour with more than 100 Republicans, who were elected last fall promising to hold the line on taxes and state spending.
Dayton said he reminded the legislators that he, too, was elected, and his message about raising taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans was crystal clear. Still, Dayton said the tone of the discussion was respectful.
"I said in there, they were elected with their mandate, and I respect their mandate. And that's why I'm willing to meet halfway," said Dayton. "And the only way I can see resolving two very legitimate, but different mandates is to split the difference between them."
Republicans have been saying all week that half of Dayton's original tax proposal is still a bad idea. They insist on balancing the books with existing revenue and no new taxes.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said that point was emphasized during what she described as a "very constructive" meeting with Dayton.
"State government has in the checkbook almost the same amount of money as they spent in the last biennium," said Koch. "It doesn't seem unreasonable to say to state government, you need to hold the line. You need to live within your means."
There were no breakthroughs. But Dayton agreed to meet Friday with GOP lawmakers to discuss the specifics of the funding bills for K-12 education and state government. He also shared his cell phone number.
Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he was remaining optimistic about reaching a budget deal with Dayton by Monday's deadline for adjournment.
"This business is about working together from a personal standpoint. I think any time we're together as a leadership team, with the governor, with our members, that's always a good sign," said Zellers. "Things are bad when you're off in separate rooms. When we're together, when we're having a conversation like this, what I'd consider a very decent conversation, that's a good thing."
Some rank-and-file Republicans didn't share Zellers' upbeat assessment of the meeting. A copy of Dayton's opening remarks showed the governor blamed the budget impasse on Republicans' "unwillingness to assume the responsibilities of leadership."
Sen. Sean Neinow, R-Cambridge, said it sounded like a lecture.
"At the beginning of the meeting he didn't set a really good tone," said Neinow. "I really felt like for about the first three minutes we were being chastised, and I didn't feel like it was a very engaging, welcoming opening."
Members of the House and Senate have been working extra hours this week to push through a series of budget bills, that all appear headed for vetoes. Once they begin landing on Dayton's desk, he'll have three days to act.
Before his meeting with the GOP caucuses, Dayton hinted that there might not be enough time for another round of bills.
"I'm not going to delay anything. I'm just going to take whatever time I need, given the volume of these and the importance of them, and the importance of a response justifying why either I'm signing them or not," said Dayton.
Dayton said he's keeping his schedule open for potential budget negotiations. He said he's waiting to hear back from Republican leaders with an offer to compromise.
Asked about the possibility of a special session or government shutdown, Dayton said he'd answer that question on Tuesday, the day after the Legislature adjourns.