Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders will spend a summer Saturday behind closed doors trying to head off a state government shutdown that would hit in less than a week if they can't agree on a budget.
It follows a day-long session Friday which was described as "productive." But there were no major developments in the talks aimed at resolving a deep impasse over the state budget.
With less than a week left to avert a possible state government shutdown, both sides said Friday they were committed to meeting through the weekend to try to resolve their differences on taxes and spending. They also said they wouldn't have much to say publicly until there's a resolution.
“We will continue to work very hard and quickly, but if it takes a lot longer, we're committed to doing it.”Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove
The talks began Friday morning with nine people crowding into House Speaker Kurt Zellers' office. The speaker was joined by Gov. Dayton and Senate Majority leader Amy Koch. Three other GOP legislators, two DFL minority leaders and Dayton's budget commissioner attended. They eventually moved to a larger conference room. Koch had earlier objected to DFL participation but then relented.
After talking privately for about an hour, Zellers announced that the negotiations were about to begin. But he said they'd already set ground rules to not comment on any specifics from the talks.
"We're going to sit down, everybody's got spreadsheets, a whole bunch of rulers, budget numbers," Zellers said. "But we're going to keep it amongst ourselves in the room, the discussions. We will continue to work very hard and quickly, but if it takes a lot longer, we're committed to doing it."
Zellers made his announcement alongside Dayton and Koch. It was the first time in weeks that the three leaders made a joint appearance. Asked if that was a positive sign, Dayton pointed out that they would be spending the next two days together.
"I'm hopeful, but we'll see," Dayton said. "I don't want to prejudge what's going on, but we're here. We're all committed to the same process of working for the next two days very hard to see if we can reach a resolution."
The root of the impasse has yet to change. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners to lessen the impact of spending cuts on colleges, public transit, subsidized health care and other programs. Republicans oppose any tax increase, and they've refused to spend more than $34 billion over the next two years.
There's also been lingering disagreement over the process for resolving the impasse. Republicans want to negotiate individual spending bills, starting with those who they think are close to Dayton's proposed spending. The governor has repeatedly rejected the idea. He said he wants an overall budget agreement first.
The tax and spending differences will be addressed, Dayton said, and indicated the format of the talks was a work in progress.
"We're not constrained to any particular format. We'll see what's effective, Dayton said. "Again, I think we've agreed among ourselves that we'll get more done more effectively if we say, 'OK, we're not going to comment on the particulars until we have a result.'"
As the main negotiations continued, some budget committee chairs from the House and Senate met in nearby offices.
Both sides insist that they want to avoid a state government shutdown, which would put thousands of public employees out of work and close most government offices. A Ramsey County judge is considering a request to order continued funding for some essential services during a shutdown.
While top lawmakers were trying to sound optimistic about resolving the budget impasse, one lobbying group appeared to be preparing for a shutdown that would last at least a couple of weeks. The Building Jobs Coalition announced a State Capitol rally to urge the governor and legislators to finish their business. The rally is scheduled for July 14, two weeks after a shutdown would begin.