Gov. Mark Dayton said he feels emboldened about his stand on the state budget after a Tuesday morning forum in St. Cloud, in which state residents and workers urged the governor and Republican leaders to compromise.
Minnesota is in the 12th day of the government shutdown, and Dayton and Republican legislative leaders have not held face-to-face meetings since Thursday. At odds over how to solve the state's $5 billion deficit.
More than 100 people packed into the library of Apollo High School in St. Cloud to listen to Dayton and St. Cloud school officials discuss special education funding. The forum was meant to be about school funding, but the real focus was on the debate over taxes and spending.
Dayton is pushing for $1.4 billion in additional revenue, preferably an income tax hike on top earners, in part, he said, so that children with special needs "don't have to be denied services."
The governor said both he and the Republicans should incorporate such Minnesota values into their negotiations and show flexibility.
"We have a divided political mandate, which means we have to work together, cooperatively," Dayton said. "We have to both be willing to compromise, as I am, then we can get this settled. We can get people back to work. We can get Minnesota back to work."
The St. Cloud event was the first of what is scheduled to be a weeklong public relations blitz by the Democratic governor, who has been trying to show that Republicans in the Legislature are unwilling to compromise.
Many of those at the forum agreed with Dayton's stance. They cheered and clapped when speakers called for higher taxes. They also roared when St. Cloud State professor Tony Akubue criticized the lawmakers in the room who are taking pay as the shutdown continues on.
"This thing about being rigid, it's so nauseating because I'm sure most of you are taking your salaries, when 22,000 employees are out here wondering what to do," said Akubue, a professor in the university's Department of Environmental and Technology Studies.
Others just want the shutdown to end. Jim Golombecki, who works for the state Department of Employment and Economic Development, told the governor he's been laid off because of the shutdown. Golombecki said he's frustrated because his job relies on funds outside of the state budget.
"My wife works in special ed here at Apollo, so I know how important special education is," Golombecki said. "I am state worker myself and I just lost a house payment worth of wages. I'm wondering how many people up here, up at the table, can say that they are wondering where their house payment is going to come next month."
Both Dayton and GOP legislative leaders are trying to convince Minnesotans that the other side is unwilling to get the job done.
Dayton said he's waiting for Republicans to present a budget offer that raises some sort of revenue. Republicans say they want Dayton to call a special session so they can pass an emergency stopgap budget bill to end the shutdown.
Lori Vrolson, executive director of the Central Minnesota Council on Aging, said the shutdown has forced her to lay off 10 of the council's 16 staffers. She said Dayton and lawmakers need to start getting serious about negotiating, and look at both cuts and more revenue.
"The amount of time that has been spent in face-to-face negotiations since the shutdown, I'm appalled by on a personal level," Vrolson said. "In order to put pressure on you guys, I would recommend these closed-door meetings end."
One Republican lawmaker at the event proposed Dayton and GOP leaders lock themselves in a room in St. Cloud. State Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said holding budget talks in St. Cloud instead of St. Paul could help.
Dayton said he was open to the idea, but said he'd wait until GOP leaders present a budget offer to him -- which they haven't done since the shutdown started.
After the event, Gottwalt said he was hopeful a deal could get done, but was unwilling to consider higher taxes.
"We are trying to provide a sustainable future for Minnesota," he said. "If we do not make promises we can keep to people who need us to keep them, then we're making promises we can't keep with money we don't have."
Dayton will take another road trip Wednesday to several cities in southeastern Minnesota.