Budget talks change venues, topics

Gov. Mark Dayton and Lt. Gov. Tina Smith gave an update on budget negotiations following a meeting with DFL leaders. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will host top lawmakers for a series of end-of-session budget negotiations this week.

Dayton summoned Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, to the governor's residence Monday for a private meeting. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is expected to join them there for another meeting this evening.

Bakk and Daudt had been having some closed-door discussions at the Capitol without Dayton.

“We’re available to have meetings here around the clock for the next eight days, whatever is necessary to get this done if we possibly can,” Dayton said.

Dayton said collaboration is needed in the remaining days to strike a budget deal. He said he’s not giving up on his top priority: universal preschool for four-year-olds, and he suggested House Republicans need to compromise on theirs: a $2 billion package of tax cuts.

“Everybody could get what they want,” he said. “The Senate could get a transportation bill. The House could get a pretty good tax bill, I could get pre-K and we’ll work the rest of it out. It depends of how cooperative people are willing to be. So far we haven’t seen that much sign of cooperation, but it’s only Monday.”

Speaker Daudt said he remains optimistic about reaching a budget agreement and ending the session on time. But he said Democrats must give up on their proposal for a gas tax increase to fund transportation projects.

“That seems to be the issue that’s holding things up,” Daudt said. “At a time when we have a $2 billion surplus, raising a gas tax to pay for a core function of state government, roads and bridges, is really not logical. We need Democrats to come to that realization.”

Senate Democrats still want a gas tax increase and they’re unwilling to support a compromise with the House for $1 billion in tax cuts. Sen. Bakk continues to suggest that neither a tax bill nor a transportation bill is needed this year.

“It’s hard to see a path there,” Bakk said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time dwelling on it because neither one is a must-pass bill.”

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