Dayton says no to GOP budget panel, wants mediator

Gov. Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton spoke about the ongoing state budget impasse during a news conference Monday, May 16, 2011.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton wants to hire an outside mediator to help break his budget impasse with Republican lawmakers over the state's budget.

But his proposal was rejected Thursday by GOP legislative leaders, who had hoped to make Dayton's budget plan the headline of the day. Instead, the two sides exchanged criticism over how they should start negotiating -- with nothing to show for their trouble by the end of the day.

The two sides have been stuck on money since the November election. Dayton has proposed raising income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to erase part of the state's $5 billion projected budget deficit. Republicans reject that idea and say they can erase the budget deficit solely by cutting spending.

Given the disagreement, Dayton suggested an outside mediator could help.

"The people of Minnesota deserve us to make every possible effort," he said. "It's not uncommon for two sides that have their differences to bring in somebody to assist in resolving that, so that we can avoid the shutdown. I want to do everything possible to avoid a July 1 shutdown, and this is yet another offer to possibly do so."

Dayton, who has repeatedly tried to signal his willingness to compromise with Republicans on the budget, has revised his budget plan twice by lowering his proposed tax hike. He faults Republicans for refusing to move off their $34 billion budget plan and insistence on not raising taxes.

Dean, Koch and Zellers
From left, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers talk with reporters on May 24, 2011, after the Legislature adjourned without reaching a budget agreement with Gov. Dayton.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Last week, Dayton vetoed the Republican budget plan, forcing a special legislative session to seek a budget agreement. But Dayton hasn't yet said when he'll call lawmakers back into session, and said he's becoming increasingly pessimistic that they can reach a deal by the end of June and avoid a government shutdown.

Dayton also made the unusual move of refusing to allow his revenue and finance commissioners to testify Thursday at a legislative hearing. The hearing, dominated by Republican members, was billed as a way to obtain more information on Dayton's budget proposal.

Dayton characterized the hearing as "political grandstanding." He said lawmakers had five months to do their work.

"Other than a constitutional amendment and a failure to pass a balanced budget that I would sign, they really accomplished very little else," the governor said. "Now they want to just keep hanging around at taxpayers' expense to hold political stunts. I'm just not going to participate in that."

Republican legislative leaders say they're disappointed Dayton wouldn't allow his commissioners to testify at the hearing. GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers also quickly rejected Dayton's plan to hire an outside mediator.

"We were elected to lead," Zellers said. "Last fall, when folks voted for not only Gov. Dayton but voted for each and every one of us in our legislative district[s], we were expected to come down here and do our job. It is tough work. It's not easy."

Dayton's decision to forbid his commissioners from testifying took the air out of the afternoon legislative hearing. The Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy met for 37 minutes, and the 12 Republicans and six Democrats on the panel mostly repeated standard talking points.

State Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, wanted to know whether lawmakers can force Dayton's commissioners to appear.

"Do we have subpoena power?" Parry asked. "I think we need to know that answer. For commissioners not to show up, that bothers me."

Lawyers for the House said the commission can subpoena commissioners to appear if two-thirds of the panel supports it. Lawmakers didn't take that step Thursday, but said they would request commissioners appear at another meeting next Tuesday.

Dayton and Republican leaders are scheduled to meet privately Friday morning. Republicans wouldn't say if they planned to present a counterproposal to Dayton at that meeting.

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