Another budget meeting, but no progress for Dayton, GOP

Budget demonstrators
Demonstrators calling for Gov. Mark Dayton to hold the line against cuts to the poor and working Minnesotans while asking him to tax the rich gather outside the Governor's Mansion to picket, Wednesday, June 8, 2011 in St. Paul, Minn. The state is heading toward a possible government shut-down as the Democratic governor and the Republican legislature have yet to reach agreement on a budget.
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders talked about the state budget again behind closed doors Wednesday, but emerged no closer to a budget deal.

The two sides are $1.8 billion apart on the budget and both sides emerged from the meeting refusing to budge off of that number. House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said he wants Dayton to agree to spending levels for K-12 education, public safety and the courts. He said Republicans have moved $110 million closer to Dayton on spending in those areas.

"A tax increase is not necessary," Zellers said. "This is the biggest budget in the state of Minnesota's history. It should be enough to fund our priorities, because if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority in the state of Minnesota. We have got to set some priorities and manage within those priorities."

Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, also said Dayton should offer more specifics on cuts he is willing to accept and on where he wants to spend more money. Dayton said it's difficult to negotiate spending cuts and tax hikes when the two sides can't agree on how much money the state has to spend over the next two years.

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"I've offered mediation; I've offered to meet halfway. I've offered to swap numbers," Dayton said. "I'm at a loss to figure out what else I can offer them that will get them to do what I see is clearly necessary in order to reach a resolution."

Dayton said what's necessary is to specify what the outcome is going to be, start with a number and then the two sides can go from there.

Dayton said he won't accept the GOP's $34 billion budget plan because he said it reduces spending too much for things like health care.

Dayton also said his agencies will start rolling out greater specifics on the state's shutdown plans as early as next week. Commissioners and state agency heads have been busy trying to determine what programs would be considered essential if a shutdown occurs.

Dayton is working with Attorney General Lori Swanson's office to ask a judge to step in and keep some government services running.

Meanwhile, the state's largest public employee unions, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, announced they're running an ad criticizing Republican lawmakers for the budget stalemate. The $300,000 ad buy will run statewide on cable and broadcast television.

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said he hopes the ad campaign will convince Republican lawmakers to accept Dayton's budget proposal.

"We do our jobs. Public employees do our jobs and we will give legislators no peace until they do their job," Seide said.

The unions are the latest group to start running ads on the state budget. Business groups, the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and the Democratic-leaning group The Alliance for a Better Minnesota are also running ads on TV and in print.

Union leaders have been urging state employees to start preparing for a shutdown by saving money. The state of Minnesota will send out layoff notices on Friday to 36,000 state employees.