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More negotiations, but no fix yet from Dayton and GOP

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Continued budget talks
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton walks out from his office after budget talks at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., July 5, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders are scheduled to meet privately Wednesday to talk again about ways to end their budget standoff.

The two sides met Tuesday for the first time since the shutdown began on Friday.

The governor met behind closed doors with GOP legislative leaders, but negotiators emerged after about an hour. Republicans renewed their call for Dayton to call a special session to pass a limited budget. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said that's the only way for the government shutdown to end.

"What we need is for the governor to call us back for a special session and get some bills wrapped up or at least agree to a 'lights-on bill' while we keep things going while we finishing negotiating on these last couple of bills," Koch, R-Buffalo, said.

The two sides are close to a deal on some bills, Koch said. But problematic of this year's budget talks is that the two sides can't agree what they agree on.

The governor said it's an exaggeration to suggest that they're close. He said he's keeping all options on the table but said he isn't willing to call lawmakers back yet.

Continued budget talks
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers address the media following budget talks at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, July 5, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"I'm not hopeful any more than I was before the meeting, because I think we've got the same gulf between us that we've had all along," Dayton said.

Negotiators differ on more than $1 billion in their budget proposals. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners to bridge the gap. Republicans say the state doesn't need to spend any more money.

Republicans last week offered to borrow against future tobacco payments and delay payments to K-12 schools to add money to the next two-year budget. Dayton was willing to accept one, but not both of those plans because they won't fix the state's budget problems over the long term, he said. 

This week, those offers are no longer on the table, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers said.

"If that's been refused, then it's off the table," Zellers said. "If it's asked to be put back on the table then we'll consider it at that time."

Dayton told reporters he is willing to consider any option to end the shutdown, but said he is out of ideas.

"The good options that I thought we had are the ones that I proposed for the last six months, and those are unacceptable to the Republican majorities," Dayton said. "But we got to get this resolved and I'm willing to do whatever I can to get it resolved."

Continued budget talks
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, addresses the media during budget talks at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, July 5, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

One possible path is a commission assembled by former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and former Republican Gov. Arne Carlson. Mondale said they hope a bipartisan mix of former legislators, state finance officials and business leaders will help craft a budget deal both sides can accept.

"What the governor and I have done here is to assemble a group of the state's most respected, seasoned specialists, on the state budgets, state policy making, state leadership," Mondale said.

Republicans in the Legislature are lukewarm to the panel. House Republican Majority Leader Matt Dean said he's willing to consider all options, except those that increase taxes. Republican Sen. Dave Thompson said Mondale and Carlson were in office at a time when government was growing too quickly. Thompson said he won't vote for a budget plan that is much higher than the $34 billion plan that the Legislature passed.

"Would I support a deal that costs $35 billion? I don't think so, no. I have been pretty clear about that," Thompson said.

Thompson doubts there are enough votes among Senate Republicans to support a budget plan that large. Dayton seems to understand that and is reaching out to moderate lawmakers from both parties for help to complete a deal.