In a now 13-day old state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton spent Wednesday in Rochester and Albert Lea talking to Minnesotans about the budget impasse.
He received some support for his proposed tax income tax increase, but there were also questions about why he wasn't negotiating back in St. Paul. And again, Dayton and Republican legislative leaders did not meet to try to resolve their differences.
Dayton said his series of budget discussions, which began Tuesday in St. Cloud, are a way to highlight what's at stake in the shutdown. He told an audience at the Rochester Senior Center that he plans to stand on his principles to protect essential health and welfare programs.
"They're not just about dollars and cents. They're about our values and priorities as a people of Minnesota, what's made this state special and great," Dayton said. "It's about the very real needs of those who are in many respects totally innocent and unwillingly pulled into their own situations."
What Dayton heard from about two dozen people, many of them elderly or disabled, were personal stories about their reliance on state safety net programs and services. Diane Elgin, who suffered a traumatic brain injury, told the governor that she doesn't want to lose the assistance that helps her live on her own.
"I'm here to ask that you don't take my services away. I live on pennies, and I want to keep pennies," Elgin said. "I'm independent, and I'm proud to be independent."
Another participant triggered enthusiastic applause when she suggested the wealthy could afford to pay higher taxes. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, faced some hissing and cat calls when he suggested the wealthy are already heavily taxed. Drazkowski urged Dayton to end the shutdown by calling a special session.
"Governor, we all want to get back to work. Let's call the session and either do a lights on bill and/or let's agree on the six bills that we do agree on, and move forward so we remove some of the obstacles from society," he said.
There were more words of support for Dayton as he took questions from the audience. A college student told the governor to stay strong. But given the circumstances of the shutdown, Kacey Byers asked the question that many Minnesotans might have asked.
"I do appreciate you coming to Rochester and being willing to spend time in communities around the state. But my question for you today is why aren't you up at the Capitol working to solve the budget problem with the legislators right now?" Byers said.
Dayton said he wants to negotiate, but he's waiting for Republicans to propose a budget. He said the GOP hasn't given him anything new since the shutdown began.
"I've made three proposals, compromise proposals to try to resolve the situation," Dayton said. "I've not in the last 13 days of the shutdown received a single proposal from the Republican side. So, as soon as they're willing to negotiate, I'm ready and willing to do so."
As the top Republican leaders remain unwavering in their opposition to raising new revenue to balance the budget, others are openly supporting it. Four GOP legislators held an afternoon news conference at Canterbury Park in Shakopee to show their support for casino gambling at racetracks as part of a budget deal.
Republican Rep. Mike Beard said he thinks new revenue has to be on the table.
"At some point I think we're going to be willing to accept more revenue. Now if it's tax revenue, that's another discussion," Beard said. "And how we get there, is it permanent? Is it temporary? What's the commitment going forward? Because we don't only have a deficit right now, we already have a deficit in the next two years that we're looking at."
Beard and and other gambling supporters estimate that slot machines at the state's two horse racing facilities could raise up to $250 million per biennium. So far, neither Dayton nor Republican leaders have made any commitment to horsetrack gaming or other proposed expansions of gambling.