Dayton, GOP set to resume budget talks

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are set to return to the bargaining table Tuesday with hopes of reaching compromise budget agreement before the session clock runs out.

The House and Senate passed five GOP budget bills Monday, and Dayton quickly vetoed them. He vetoed a first set of five bills passed by the Legislature last week.

The latest batch of rejected bills were jobs/commerce/energy, higher education, public safety/judiciary, taxes and transportation.

Dayton said he'll make an offer on global budget targets that he described as a "significant departure" from his January budget proposal. He said it will move toward Republicans on spending reductions and tax cuts.

"It's a big step. It's a mega step, and I hope it's recognized as such," Dayton said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he expects the negotiations to go all day, every day until there is an agreement. Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said he doesn’t feel like the governor has been serious about compromising.

“It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get serious," Daudt said. "Now, I said that two weeks ago. I said it a week ago. I’m saying it today. I’m hoping it actually happens this time, because it’s time we get it done.”

Republicans walked away from talks last week after growing frustrated with a lack of progress. They then started passing the budget bills. But the strategy broke down when Senate Republicans, who have a narrow 34-33 advantage, found themselves down a member for several days. They were back at full strength Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he’s ready to return to negotiations.

“We’re saying we need to watch spending. He’s saying we shouldn’t give too much tax relief back,” Gazelka said. “Those on both sides are going to have to give a little bit. We only have a week left.”

Despite the looming veto threat, many Republicans defended their bills as worthy of the governor’s signature.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, made a pitch for the $1.15 billion tax bill.

“This bill gives opportunity to every Minnesotan,” Chamberlain said.

Democrats in the House and Senate didn’t have the votes to stop the bills. But they took several turns criticizing them during the floor debates.

Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, took aim at the jobs, commerce and energy bill.

“Earlier I called this a veto missile,” Mahoney said. “I want to apologize for insulting missiles. This is more of a scud. Not very far to travel and no direction.”

During the Senate debate on the finance bill for public safety and judiciary, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the bill would shortchange employees in several state agencies.

“This bill is worth vetoing just because it’s such a scrawny target,” Latz said.

But Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, reminded his DFL colleagues that they have not yet seen the final version of the bill.

“This is now the second step in a negotiation, and we’re not entirely finished yet,” Limmer said. "So, I’ve taken all of your notes down, and hopefully we will consider passage of this today and we will start a new round of negotiations.”

Lawmakers need to finish their work by midnight on May 22 to avoid a special session. That special session would need to wrap up by July 1 to avoid a partial government shutdown.

House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Republicans wasted a full week to pass budget bills headed to certain vetoes. Hortman said she no longer believes there is enough time left to finish the budget.

“You cannot responsibly draft $46 billion of spending bills in seven days, no matter how fantastic your staff is," Hortman said. "That’s an inhuman exercise. We haven’t been negotiating for seven days, so they don’t even have an agreement to start drafting.”

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