Dayton says GOP budget stance not responsible

Dayton, Thissen, Bakk
Gov. Mark Dayton addresses the media regarding the continuing budget stalemate in Minnesota on June 22, 2011 in St. Paul, Minn. He's joined by Rep. Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis) and Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook).
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

There's still no sign of a budget breakthrough, but DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders met briefly Wednesday and agreed to hold marathon discussions Friday and Saturday to try and reach a deal.

There were also additional preparations for a court hearing Thursday on a shutdown lawsuit.

The hour-long meeting in the governor's office was the first face-to-face discussion since last Thursday, but the root of the budget impasse remains unchanged.

Dayton is insisting on an income tax increase for the top 2 percent of earners, as one part of the solution for a projected $5 billion deficit. Republicans remain opposed to any tax increase, and they refuse to spend any more than $34 billion over the next two years.

Earlier in the day, Dayton highlighted what he sees as the consequences of the GOP budget proposal and its spending cuts. His list included college tuition hikes, local property tax increases and cuts in subsidized health care. Dayton also described the lack of compromise by Republicans as "not responsible."

"They were elected with their mandate. I was elected with mine," Dayton said. "They're both legitimate mandates and I'm willing to honor theirs and its legitimacy, and they're unwilling to honor mine. Their position is our way or no way."

Dayton said there's just no way a resolution can be reached until there's a willingness to compromise on both sides and to meet halfway.

Republicans have been urging Dayton to call a special session soon so that legislators could begin passing some of the budget bills. They contend that agreements are close on several measures. But Dayton said he doesn't think agreements are close on any of the bills, and he doesn't want to isolate any of the budget bills until there's a global agreement and an overall spending target.

"Once we agree on that number, divide it among the various components and get the people with the best expertise to sit down and we could negotiate this within a day," Dayton said.

A few hours later, Republican leaders emerged from the governor's office and said they planned to move ahead with Dayton on a bill-by-bill approach. They said daylong talks were scheduled Friday and Saturday.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said they will lock themselves in a room and won't leave until they have at least some consensus or a framework that they can then take back to their legislative members and the governor can be comfortable with.

"But the point being that without the three of us in a room talking about these bills in great detail and coming to agreement between the three of us, it's going to be awfully difficult for all of us to come to agreement," Zellers said.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said she thinks it's important for both sides to get a few budget wins under their belts before turning to the remaining areas of disagreement. But Koch wasn't willing to move at all on taxes or spending.

"The point is we can solve this budget. In certain areas we're incredibly close," Koch said. "In certain areas we're a little further away, but we need to get down and dig into these bills, and so that will be the agendas for Friday and Saturday to start with."

Meanwhile, state officials will be in Ramsey County District Court Thursday for a hearing on the lawsuit to keep essential functions of government funded an operating during a shutdown. Gov. Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson have submitted separate recommendations to the court. Special interest groups have also been weighing in.

Two organizations representing Minnesota cities filed paperwork arguing that the state should be required to keep paying aid to local governments. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said the delay of an expected July payment would have significant consequences.

"When two-thirds of your budget is public safety, represented by my police officers and firefighters that stand behind me, it is absolutely impossible to deal with a state shutdown without a Local Government Aid payment without severely and dramatically impacting public safety in the city of St. Paul," Coleman said.

Dozens of other groups — representing such interests as battered women, hospital, nursing homes and public schools — have also asked the court to protect their state funding during a shutdown.

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