Gov. Mark Dayton will hit the road this week to speak directly to Minnesotans about the stakes of the state government shutdown, now 11 days in.
First stop is Tuesday in St. Cloud, and Dayton plans additional trips to Rochester, Winona, Albert Lea and Moorhead. Public pressure will eventually force Republicans to compromise and end the shutdown, Dayton said.
The governor and GOP Legislative leaders are at odds over their respective plans to solve the state's $5 billion deficit. While Dayton agrees to trim some spending, he proposes higher taxes on the wealthy. Republicans want to balance the budget largely on spending cuts. The two sides remain about $1.4 billion apart.
"The people of Minnesota overwhelmingly want us to compromise. I think they want us to get this resolved. It takes two sides to do that, but I'm going to do everything I can to persuade Minnesotans of the truth, which is I'm willing to compromise," Dayton said. "I'm willing to consider other possibilities. I'm willing to consider any reasonable proposal that will get this matter resolved as quickly as possible."
Republicans renewed their request that Dayton call a special session, which would allow them to begin work on some spending bills and passing a stopgap "lights on" bill to reopen government while broader negotiations continue.
Disappointed by the governor's latest letter, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said Dayton still isn't offering to rein in government spending.
"Compromise is not just about who are you taxing and how much are you are taxing them," Koch said. "We have to have the discussion on what are you spending the money on, and how does that differ from what we're doing and in what way is it more sustainable going forward.
"That's the important compromise discussion we need to hear, and we're not hearing that from the governor."
As the politicians disagreed, Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled that a program helping severely disabled people find jobs doesn't qualify for funding during the government shutdown. The judge denied the funding request from the Minnesota Association of Community Rehabilitation Organizations, even though the special master on shutdown matters had earlier approved it.
Other petitions Gearin denied were requests for new nursing licenses, and for car dealers to access an electronic vehicle registration system. Gearin did approve funding for a Twin Cities organization that delivers food to the elderly. Also today, more than 100 representatives of Hmong, Cambodian, Vietnamese and other Asian American groups gathered on the steps of the closed State Capitol to call for an end to the government shutdown.
Organizer Zha Blong Xiong said the shutdown hurts several social service agencies that help his community with employment searches and child care. Xiong wants the governor and legislators to take notice.
"They need to put politics behind and put the people first, because everyday they're trying to struggle though this budget ordeal the people actually suffer," Xiong said. "We really want our state leaders to get their act together, come together, compromise. Not for the political party, but for the people of Minnesota."
The same groups will be back with larger crowds if the budget impasse continues, Xiong said.
Dayton did not address the protesters, but he later appeared on the same steps to discuss the budget with reporters. He outlined a letter he sent to Republican leaders in an attempt to revive negotiations, and said he would consider other forms of tax revenue, even ones he doesn't necessarily like. His list includes an expanded sales tax with a lower rate, and higher taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.
"I still prefer the income tax, but if that's not possible, I'm willing to look for other sources of revenue," Dayton said.