Republican leaders in the Minnesota Legislature say they've taken a big step toward a budget compromise with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, but there's still no agreement to head off a possible government shutdown.
After a meeting with the Republicans last night Dayton said he appreciates their offer, but that the two sides are still $1.8 billion apart.
Republican legislative leaders said they would agree to spend as much as Dayton on two areas of the budget -- K-12 education and public safety and the courts. Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch called it a major move for Republicans, especially since Dayton already signed another bill funding the Agriculture Department. She said the GOP offer should help the two sides reach an overall agreement.
"We'd come to the governor's budget numbers here on nearly 50 percent of the budget," Koch said. "If you say kids, cops, courts and throw in crops for agriculture, we'd nearly half of the budget knocked out here, and we feel that's a tremendous starting point."
The problem is that Republicans still want to hold overall spending over the next two years to $34 billion. That means, to increase spending on schools, public safety and courts, they'd have to make deeper cuts to other parts of the budget, where Dayton contends they're already cutting too deeply.
The governor says he's slightly more optimistic that a budget deal can get done. But he said the GOP budget plan is still $1.8 billion less than his, and that Republicans need to reach an agreement with him on finding more revenue.
"They're still holding at $34 billion, if I read between the lines, and that is something I will not agree to," Dayton said. "And I repeated it again this afternoon. It's going to be a question of whether they're really willing to reach out on the revenue side as well as on the spending side."
Dayton and Republican lawmakers are involved in a stare down over the best way to erase the state's $5 billion projected budget deficit. The two sides are roughly $1.8 billion apart. Dayton scaled back his tax hike proposal twice in the hopes of convincing Republicans to move his way. Republicans have put forward a $34 billion budget plan in March and haven't moved off of that number.
Dayton also said he apologized to Republican lawmakers for leading them to think that he would attend a private morning meeting Monday on K-12 education spending.
Republicans were upset that they planned the meeting but the governor didn't show up. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, expressed frustration that Dayton wasn't there.
"It's very difficult when the governor doesn't show up, and we need the governor to come out and play. We need him here to help reach an agreement on this. I will repeat what I have said all session long -- that this Legislature and this governor will make dramatic, positive changes in the area of education reform. But we need him to be here in order to get that done," Garofalo said.
Democrats responded it didn't matter that Dayton wasn't at the meeting. Sen. Leroy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said it's difficult for lawmakers to negotiate a K-12 budget when they don't know how much Dayton and Republicans want to spend. Stumpf said he's concerned that the stalemate could continue.
"The governor has made reductions in his revenues that he wants to raise. The other side hasn't made any changes right from the very beginning. So if neither side budges at all, there's going to be a shutdown," Stumpf said.
The prospects for a shutdown are significant. Layoff notices for 35,000 state workers are scheduled to go out this week. State agencies are also working to determine which government programs will need to be considered essential if a government shutdown occurs on July 1. A judge eventually would decide which programs should continue if there's no budget in place.