No budget deal makes Minn. special session certain

Labor rally at the Capitol
Hundreds of people gathered in the Capitol for a labor rally in the waning hours of the Legislature.
MPR Photo/Tim Nelson

Over the past few years, the legislative session sometimes ended with acrimony. Other sessions ended with smiles. The 2011 legislative session limped to a finish.

Lawmakers took up a slew of policy bills in the closing hours, but there were no final handshakes, no closed door meetings and most importantly no budget — the key responsibility for Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-led Legislature.

The session ended Monday at midnight without a deal to erase the state's projected $5 billion budget deficit. Dayton said he'll veto the budget bills, forcing a special session.

GOP legislative leaders will travel the state Tuesday to urge Dayton to sign the budget bills they passed in the closing days of the legislative session.

Even though they didn't reach a compromise with Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said House and Senate Republicans did their job.

"We did what we said what we were going to do," Koch said. "We came here to pass a budget that did not raise taxes. That lives within our means. It does have $3 billion in additional revenue."

The new Republican majorities did pass a budget, but it won't become law. Dayton said he will veto all the GOP budget bills because Republicans would not compromise with him on a tax increase.

Koch and Dayton
Sen. Majority Leader-designate Amy Koch appears with Gov.-elect Mark Dayton at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2010.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

The governor told reporters on Monday afternoon that he wanted to work with Republicans to find a budget solution, but they didn't want to work with him.

"One party's willing to compromise, myself. And the legislative leaders, the Republicans, are not willing to compromise one dollar. That leaves me with few choices — just keep waiting in the middle, which is what I'm doing, or go all the way over and agree to $3.6 billion in cuts, which I think would be devastating for hundreds of thousands of people in Minnesota."

Dayton wants to raise income taxes on the top 2 percent of Minnesota's earners to erase part of the state's $5 billion projected budget deficit. Republicans sent him a $34 billion budget that erases the deficit through spending cuts alone.

Dayton declined to say when he would call lawmakers back for a special session to fix the budget problem. The two sides have until July 1 to reach a budget deal or state government will shut down.


That prospect is starting to worry state employees. Hundreds of them gathered inside the state Capitol Monday night to call on lawmakers to not end the session without a budget deal. Jan Gasper works at a regional treatment center and is frustrated with the lack of an agreement.

"They've been in the Legislature for how long?" Gasper asked. "What are they getting resolved? I mean, they were supposed to go in and agree on a budget. Why hasn't the budget been talked about yet? This is our jobs on the line, and we work hard for everything we do."

Many Republican lawmakers say they aren't willing to spend a penny more than the $34 billion in their budget. But a potential shutdown is also raising concerns among some lawmakers.

Rep. Larry Howe, R-Walker, said the state could raise more money by doing something like expanding gambling.

"It might not have to be taxing the top 2 percent," he said. "There will be revenue of some sort for us to get out of here or we will be here until, like the governor said, the elections of 2012."

So far gambling and other alternative revenue sources have not drawn much support.


While the budget breakdown overshadowed the session, GOP leaders say they did pass some meaningful legislation. They streamlined the environmental-permitting process for businesses and allowed alternative pathways for people to become teachers.

They also put a constitutional amendment on next year's ballot that will allow voters to decide whether to define marriage as between one man and one woman.

Still, it's the budget standoff that will define the next few weeks. And Democrats were quick to point out the new GOP majorities did not get their work done. DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said Republicans owe the state an apology.

"A session that started talking about jobs and balancing the budget ended up with nothing," he said. "It's the most do nothing Legislature that I can remember."