Chants, Talks And More Talks Do Not Equal Budget Progress

GOP leaders walk past protesters

A series of Sunday meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton appeared to produce no budget breakthrough, with legislators and the governor facing a Monday night deadline to fill a $5 billion deficit in the next two-year budget.

Legislative leaders in higher education, public safety, courts, health care and other budget areas met with Dayton and his aides throughout the day. But there was little talk about the budget, which is the key problem between Democrat Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature.

If there is no budget deal by midnight Monday, which almost no one in the Capitol expects, a special legislative session will be needed. If a budget is not written by July 1, state government will begin to shut down.

Republicans want to spend $34 billion in the next two years, while Dayton’s target is $35.8 billion.

“We had a nice discussion,” Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said as he left a meeting with Dayton and the governor’s staff.

Nornes, the top House higher education negotiator, said the budget was barely discussed. There was discussion, but no decision, on capping Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system tuitions, he said.

“There was really no discussion on the total dollars to be spent or cut,” Nornes said.

While nearly everyone in the Capitol expects a special session, leaders pledged to keep working for a budget deal.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said that leaders have changes of clothes at the Capitol, along with toothbrushes, so they can be available around the clock. Dayton’s staff said he also would be available, but no further talks with legislative leaders were scheduled after one broke up at mid-afternoon.

Just before the leaders-Dayton meeting ended, protesters took over microphones the media set up to get reaction to the meeting.

Among those talking was a representative from the Welfare Rights Committee, an organization that for 20 years has demanded that the state continue to fund welfare and health-care programs.

Chants of “tax the rich” echoed through the Capitol.

Zellers said legislative negotiations and Dayton are agreeing on things they have in common, but he and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said no progress was made on the budget.

However, Koch said that if policy items are negotiated, that can save money since Republicans want to reform government in a way that cost taxpayers less.

“The reforms that are embedded in here are very important,” she said.

Legacy spending conference committee