More talk, little movement on budget from Dayton, GOP

Budget caucus
Gov. Mark Dayton meets with Republican leaders including Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, left, and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, in a May 2011 file photo.
MPR File Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders talked again Friday about the budget, but there's still no agreement to erase a projected $5 billion deficit or avoid a looming government shutdown.

Friday's face-to-face meeting was the first one the two sides held since the Legislature adjourned last week without a budget deal.

The 90-minute, private discussion at the governor's residence was described by participants as "productive" and "constructive." But the meeting did nothing to bridge the deep philosophical divide that's been driving the budget impasse.

Dayton insists on an income tax increase on the top 2-percent of earners as a way to soften budget cuts. Republicans oppose any tax increases, and House Speaker Kurt Zellers stressed that they still oppose spending any more than $34 billion for the next two years.

"Well, I think our conference committees came in at $33.999 [billion], something like that, $34.2 [billion] is what's available to be spent," Zellers said. "It's not what we say it is, it's what's in the checkbook, and it's still the biggest budget in state history."

Republicans offered a negotiation schedule for the month, which includes further meetings with the governor and meetings between budget committee chairs and Dayton's commissioners.

Their proposed schedule concludes with a three-day special session during the final week of June. Senate Majority Amy Koch said the schedule would help avoid a government shutdown on July 1.

"It puts us on a tight time frame, absolutely," Koch said of the proposed three-day special session. "But deadlines are important and tight time frames are how people seem to work best."

Koch is convinced that an overall budget agreement would eventually emerge from the series of meetings, as participants pinpoint the spending and policy priorities for both sides in individual bills.

Not surprisingly, Dayton sees it differently. He wants the overall agreement up front. The governor said he would meet again Monday, but he wants Republicans to show up with a new budget number. Dayton wants them to set a mid-point between their proposal and his, and then show a willingness to compromise on revenue.

"If they're willing to meet me halfway, and I'm already at halfway or very close to it, then we'll be able to work the rest of this out," Dayton said. "If they're not willing to meet me halfway, if they're going to stand on $34 billion, then the rest of this is just for show, and I guess we'll find out next week."

Dayton is expecting movement from Republicans on the budget, but he's digging in his heels. After shrinking his proposal tax increase by half last month, he made it clear that he won't move again.

"My resolve is bolstered by the fact, first of all, I know this is right for the most people of Minnesota. And secondly, by the fact that the polls show two-thirds of the people support my approach and one-third support their approach," Dayton said.

Dayton stressed that he will not call legislators back for a special session until there's a detailed budget agreement in writing with Republican leaders.

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