Dayton continues state tour, waits for GOP counteroffer

Dayton in St. Cloud
Gov. Mark Dayton listens to Dan Brill discuss education policy at a forum in St. Cloud, Minn. on Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Republican Rep. Steve Gottwalt of St. Cloud listens at back right. Dayton continues his state tour today in Rochester and Albert Lea.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Gov. Mark Dayton hits the road again Wednesday to talk about the budget impasse and a state government shutdown that is now entering its 13th day.

Following Tuesday's stop in St. Cloud, Dayton will stop in Rochester and Albert Lea Wednesday. Despite his absences from the Capitol, the governor said he remains available to negotiate. Republican leaders say they too are ready to meet. Again, however, there are no talks scheduled.

Dayton said he grew tired of waiting for a Republican counteroffer, and thought a better use of his time would be to speak directly to Minnesotans about what he sees as the stakes of the budget battle. The governor hopes to address specific topics at each event, but also discuss the broader political divide over spending and taxes that led to the shutdown.

"It just reminds me again that these are dollars that are going to go protect the lives and even save the lives of Minnesotans, especially our children," Dayton said. "So, it's a reminder of how important it is that we get this resolved fairly and in a balanced way."

Dayton said he will gladly postpone any of his trips should Republican leaders be ready to negotiate. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch tried unsuccessfully to accompany along with Dayton to the event in St. Cloud, as well the other stops on the governor's schedule. She also suggested riding in the same car with Dayton to talk about the budget. Koch said she's still ready to get together with Dayton whenever he wants to.

"I think it's just really important that we keep talking," Koch said. "I think that Minnesotans are frustrated. There's a lot of pain out there. There's a lot of unnecessary pain. And so I think the discussions have to keep happening."

Some of that frustration was on display Tuesday during a news conference on the steps of the State Capitol. Republican Sen. Warren Limmer and two of his colleagues discussed their legal challenge to court-ordered funding for essential services during the shutdown. The Minnesota Supreme Court has a hearing scheduled for July 27.

"This type of process is very dangerous because it rules the voice of the people out of the decision," Limmer said.

But Limmer was soon defending himself from a constituent who wondered why the lawmakers were holding a press conference instead ending the shutdown.

Limmer: "Sir, sir."

Constituent: "Do your job or give me your paycheck."

Limmer: "Sir."

Constituent: "Give me your paycheck so I don't have to collect unemployment."

Limmer: "Sir, I understand this is an emotional issue for people like you."

Constituent: "Yeah, yeah, it is emotional."

The heckler was Chris LaPakko, a laid-off state employee who's holding vigil outside the Capitol during the shutdown. LaPakko said Limmer and other legislators need to get their priorities straight.

"He's telling everyone that the most important thing for him to do is file a lawsuit against the governor right now," LaPakko said. "The most important thing for him to do, is to do his job and finish this budget mess, and get back to work so 22,000 people can stop collecting unemployment checks."

Democrats in the Minnesota House also want an end to the shutdown, but said to do it they need the help of at least six Republicans. They're urging moderates in the majority caucus to cross party lines to support a budget solution that includes both spending cuts and tax increases.

House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen said some private conversations have already taken place with GOP legislators, but he declined to name with whom. Now is the time for some Republicans to step forward, Thissen said.

"All it takes is six courageous leaders to buck the Republican party line and listen to the vast majority of Minnesotans who want to cut the state budget and want to raise fair revenues to fill our historic budget gap," Thissen said.

Even if the DFL got six Republican votes, GOP leaders said they still would not be willing to bring a vote to the floor on tax increases. House Speaker Kurt Zellers dismissed the DFL strategy.

"There are not six members of our caucus that are willing to cross over for a tax increase," Zellers. "And it's kind of a moot point. It's interesting that they held the news conference, because the governor won't call us back into special session."

Zellers spoke during his own news conference in which he repeated his request for Dayton to call a special session. He said Legislators are ready to pass a temporary funding "lights on" bill that would keep government functioning during the remaining budget negotiations.

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