With only a few hours to go in the legislative session, state lawmakers are plodding toward a midnight adjournment with no hope of reaching a budget agreement.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders remain at an impasse over how best to erase are a projected $5 billion budget deficit. Their disagreement will now carry over to a special session and possibly lead to a government shutdown.
Despite staying upbeat and optimistic for weeks about an on-time finish, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, conceded that even if an agreement came together soon, the Legislature wouldn't have time to process bills before the midnight deadline.
Zellers said during an interview on MPR's Midday that he sees a difference between a special session and what he termed "a little overtime."
"Considering where we are and what we've done this session, I think it would probably be all right," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said her preference would be to return quickly for a special session.
"Let's move forward and get this done," she said. "If we're making some good progress, it might be best to just get back to work. But it's obviously up to the governor."
But the governor and Republicans are still miles apart on taxes and spending. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners and Republicans oppose any tax increases. They also oppose spending more than $34 billion over the next two years.
Dayton, who unveiled a smaller tax proposal last week, said he's the only one willing to compromise.
"That leaves me with two choices: just keep waiting in the middle, which is what I'm doing, or go all the way over and agree to $3.6 billion in cuts, which I think would be devastating for hundreds of thousands of people throughout Minnesota," Dayton said.
Dayton said he won't call back legislators immediately for a special session. If the impasse lingers through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, some functions of state government would start shutting down. But Dayton said Minnesotans won't stand for it.
"I think as people understand what the consequences of a state government shutdown would mean for people in their daily lives," he said. "We were elected to represent the will of the people. So, to me that would be really a catastrophic occurrence and one that I remain hopeful we can avoid."
Dayton and his commissioners held a series of meetings with conference committee chairs on the individual budget bills Republicans finalized last week. Without an overall budget agreement, Dayton is expected to veto those bills, but he said he won't take action until the Legislature adjourns its regular session.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, urged Dayton to instead start signing the bills now. Michel said he's not ready to give up.
"So, I don't want to talk about lights on. I don't want to talk about special session. I don't want to talk about overtime. Let's get our work done," Michel said.
Democrats weren't sharing Michel's optimism. Rep. Ann Lenczewski, D-Bloomington, was already looking beyond the midnight deadline and assessing the session.
"It's clear that the work will not get done on time, unfortunately. I think this session, this is my 13th, is about the biggest failure I can recall. Absolutely nothing has gotten done," she said. Lenczewski said the governor and Republicans will have to come together and compromise. She said it's just a matter of when.
Earlier Monday, frustration with the standstill was evident on the House floor.
"I'm a little befuddled, besmirched about what to do next, because we can't do anything," Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said Monday morning, lamenting the fact that Dayton hadn't acted on the health and human services spending bill Abeler's committee sent him. Abeler said he hoped Dayton would either veto or sign the bill so that lawmakers could make changes and get a bill passed before the deadline.
"I'm frustrated," Abeler said.
"If you have another bill to put forward, I don't know how you're going to get that done," House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, responded, looking at his watch. He said Republicans should have passed their budget bills earlier.
"I think we should just move on," Thissen said.
This is a developing story. Check back later for updates.
(MPR reporter Tom Scheck contributed to this report.)