Leaders Work Off Of Different Budget Maps


Minnesota policymakers are on a trip, but it appears the House and Senate have slightly different maps and both are far different than the one used by Gov. Mark Dayton.

If they are to arrive at the same destination, approving a state budget by May 23, they first need to agree on a map. That, it appears, is a long ways off.

In a rare joint appearance Monday by key Dayton administration commissioners and the two top legislative leaders, it quickly became apparent neither side is ready to give ground, especially on the question about whether to raise taxes.

Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans, on the job four days and in his first public appearance, restated Democrat Dayton’s demand to raise taxes on Minnesota’s richest 5 percent of taxpayers.

“I want some revenue,” Frans said. “I’m not going to say how much.”

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, threw up her hands at the University of Minnesota forum hosted by former House Speaker Steve Sviggum. Republicans who control the Legislature refuse to raise state taxes, and favor tax cuts.

Dayton requested $3.2 billion in new revenue, with higher income taxes on the rich, bigger property tax bills on homes worth more than $1 million and other taxes.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, offered the only indication of willingness to compromise other than Frans saying that he might accept less revenue. Zellers left an opening for new revenue eventually when a reporter asked if Republicans could accept higher fees or surcharges and he responded: “For right now, we are ruling that out.”

Sviggum, R-Kenyon, called the forum to provide a roadmap to how the Legislature can meet its constitutional adjournment deadline in six weeks with a completed two-year budget. After more than an hour, Sviggum concluded that the four participants were cordial, but he heard little optimism about how the work gets done.

The panel came at a key time in the 2011 Legislature, with the House and Senate last week wrapping up their spending bills, sending them to negotiations that began Monday.

A couple of the spending bills could be wrapped up this week, before a week-long Easter-Passover break begins a week from today, but most will need more time.

Koch said the next step is obvious: beginning talks with the Dayton administration.

But that is not how the administration sees things.

“This is a three-act play,” Commissioner Jim Showalter of Minnesota Management and Budget said.

The first act, the governor presenting his budget plan, came on Feb. 15. But, Showalter said, the second act still is playing out in legislative negotiations, so it is not time to move on to Dayton talks.

“We are talking about the third act, when we haven’t finished the second act,” Showalter said.

Dayton has said that he does not want to get involved in budget talks until the House and Senate work out their differences in their $34 billion budget plan. In fact, he said that he will refuse to sign bills until lawmakers give him a better idea of their entire budget plan.

Zellers said GOP leaders will discuss the next step when they meet with Dayton over breakfast today.

On Monday, legislative negotiators approved an agriculture funding bill. Republican leaders said a courts and public safety bill also could be resolved quickly.

Zellers said legislative negotiations will include the administration, but stopped short of promising that bills would be rewritten so Dayton could sign them.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, was not optimistic when a radio host interviewed him Monday: “We are not that much closer to getting a budget resolution than when we first got here in January.”

Showalter, Zellers