Dayton wants GOP to pick up the pace on state budget fix

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton in a January 2011 file photo. Dayton is growing impatient over the lack of an agreement with Republicans on how to erase a projected $5 billion budget deficit.
AP Photo/Jim Mone, File

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is growing impatient over the lack of an agreement with Republicans on how to erase a projected $5 billion budget deficit.

With 19 days left in the session, Dayton said Wednesday that his optimism for a timely deal is waning. But GOP leaders insist they're ready to negotiate.

Last month, Dayton asked Republicans to resolve the differences between the House and Senate budget bills and send him their unified proposals by this Friday. GOP leaders have ignored the deadline.

They are instead relying on conference committees to work toward a final budget agreement by the May 23 adjournment and are counting on Dayton or his commissioners to be at the table. Dayton said he's ready to negotiate, but for now, it's up to the Republicans.

"I promise to be flexible and be willing to compromise and find middle ground with them," Dayton said. "But it takes two to do that."

Dayton showed some frustration with the amount of time House and Senate committees have been spending on controversial policy measures, including a handful of proposed constitutional amendments. He accused Republicans of using measures like a same-sex marriage ban and requiring a photo id to vote as an attempted diversion from their budget responsibility.

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"Anyone who is going to Washington for advice on how to solve a budget deficit is heading in the wrong direction."

But Dayton said a yet-to-be heard Vikings stadium bill would not be a distraction, and he'd be willing to sign it before a final budget deal.

"I think it's a very worthwhile project, and no, I view that very differently," Dayton said.

Dayton contends the GOP budget bills are still out of balance by about $1 billion, because they rely heavily on projected savings from a hoped-for waiver from the federal government that would allow the state to restructure taxpayer funded health care programs.

The governor questioned the decision by Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, to travel to Washington this week to discuss the proposed waiver with members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.

"Anyone who is going to Washington for advice on how to solve a budget deficit is heading in the wrong direction," Dayton said.

REPUBLICANS MAKE THEIR CASE

Republicans argue that Dayton's budget is the one heading in the wrong direction. They say his proposed income tax increase on top earners would hurt the economy and won't get any votes in the Legislature.

Despite the big disagreements, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she's still optimistic about finishing a budget on time.

"The commissioners and our chairs are meeting and negotiating as they go," said Koch, R-Buffalo. "When we feel comfortable and the governor feels comfortable, then we'd like to get those passed off the floor and get them signed by the governor."

Republicans have already passed an agriculture budget bill that Dayton signed, and they think the same approach can work on the remaining bills. House Majority Leader Matt Dean said the governor must get involved now.

"We don't want to set the clock backwards by just sending him bills that maybe are amendable, or with some negotiation could be signed," said Dean, R-Dellwood. "The ideal is the House and Senate come together with the governor, we agree on something that he can sign, we wrap them up, move them off, he signs them and move on to the next one."

The governor's resistance to work with conference committees has not stopped his commissioners from weighing in. They've been sending letters to conference committee chairs pointing out the problems they see in the bills. But most of the committees that have been meeting appear to be making little progress.

No one is talking about it yet, but if the stalemate continues until May 23, a special session would be needed to pass a budget bill. If there's no progress by the start of the next fiscal year, on July 1 the state government would shut down.