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Still no deal; Dayton hits road to put pressure on GOP

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State shutdown
The grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul remain quiet on July 11, 2011, as the state government shutdown continues.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

On day 12 of the state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders don't have any budget talks scheduled. 

Instead, Dayton is embarking on a statewide tour to ratchet up his public relations efforts across the state, with the first stop scheduled in St. Cloud at 10 a.m. Tuesday. He's also posted a video to YouTube and sent a letter to GOP legislative leaders urging compromise. 

Republican legislative leaders say they're willing to talk with Dayton but want the focus to be on limiting state spending — not raising taxes.

On the steps outside the locked State Capitol building, Dayton told reporters Monday that he was open to a number of revenue options, such as increasing the alcohol and cigarette tax, eliminating tax breaks and expanding the sales tax base while lowering the rate. Dayton left it to Republican legislative leaders to choose an alternative to his original plan that raised income taxes on Minnesota's top earners.

"I am still waiting for a counteroffer. In the meantime, I'm just offering various possibilities. I want to get this resolved and the people of Minnesota want to get this resolved," Dayton said. "I'm available. I'm willing to meet. I offered a mediator. I've suggested everything I can think of to get this matter settled but I can't negotiate with myself."

Dayton's media blitz is intended to show his willingness to compromise in contrast to Republicans who haven't budged in their opposition to taxes.

Disappointed with Dayton's latest offer, GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said, "The governor continues to believe that the discussion needs to be about where the revenue comes from and how much. There's no compromise in the area that we're concerned about — reining in spending and reforming the way we are spending."

Koch renewed her request that Dayton call lawmakers into a special session to end the government shutdown by passing a stopgap funding bill. Republicans haven't made a budget offer to Dayton since the government shutdown began on July 1. 

Koch said the GOP is considering a proposal but wouldn't say when an offer would be forthcoming. She also declined to say why she hasn't reached out to Dayton to meet face-to-face since Thursday.

AID SET UP FOR STATE WORKERS

While Dayton and Republicans continue to be at odds over the budget, two of the state's public employee unions are establishing a safety net for the 22,000 state workers who are laid off. The Minnesota Association of Professional Employees will offer hardship grants to members. Eliot Seide, with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, said his union is establishing food shelves so laid off workers could have options after their last paycheck.

"After that, the only thing they'll be eligible for is unemployment insurance which is up to half of their gross pay.  That's not a lot of money," Seide said. "Our people make on average of $38,000 a year living paycheck-to-paycheck, so there's likely to be tough times ahead."

Despite the shutdown, Seide said his union continues to back Dayton in the budget impasse. The Republican budget plan cuts a larger portion of the state's workforce and changes Minnesota's collective bargaining rules, Seide said. He said his union urges Dayton to stay strong on the push for permanent revenue such as the income tax hike on top earners.

Republican Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester doesn't expect his party to back down.  Many GOP lawmakers feel a two-year state budget of $34 billion is enough, he said.

"Any tax on income or production is certainly off the table. Whether there's wiggle room on anything else, I don't know," Senjem said. "We had a pretty good caucus and we decided that $34.2 [million] is the number, so I would probably believe that that's still the number."

Senjem is pushing for a law that would allow the state's horse tracks to operate slot machines, and believes gambling will be included in the final budget deal.  The governor said revenues from the so-called "racino" proposal won't deliver the funds needed to plug the budget gap.