10 days and counting: No high-level budget talks

Speaker Kurt Zellers, with Koch

Ten days remain before the state budget runs dry, but no high-level budget talks have occurred since Thursday.

Republican legislative leaders on Monday asked Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton to return to negotiations with a budget offer, but the governor said it is the GOP’s turn to make a move.

“Your continuing unwillingness to compromise will make it impossible for us to reach a fair and balanced solution by June 30,” Dayton wrote to Republican leaders, adding that he remains available to meet with them.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said that Dayton and Republicans are close in several budget areas, including education, courts, public safety and transportation. She said that Dayton should call the Legislature into a special session to pass those bills while work continues on more difficult ones, such as funding state-funded health programs.

Dayton says he needs an agreement on all of the budget before he will call a special session.

While the two sides drew no closer on a budget, preparations continued for a government shutdown that could happen without a new budget in place by July 1. A court likely will decide what in state government remains operating and what is shut down.

The Dayton administration announced that the governor on Tuesday will amend an earlier court filing that will seek to pay health-care providers during a shutdown. His original filing suggested that hospitals, doctors and other providers not be paid.

“After consultation with seniors and other vulnerable Minnesotans served by our programs, we recognize the lack of assured provider payments could indeed lead to life threatening situations,” Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said. “The governor’s legal filing and contingency plans will be refined to reflect this.”

Dayton also will ask the court to allow new enrollments in state-funded health programs.

A group representing nursing homes and other health-care providers for Minnesota’s elderly also asked the courts to keep state funding flowing in case of a government shutdown. More such requests are expected by other groups in coming days.

Aging Services of Minnesota and Care Providers of Minnesota filed paperwork in Ramsey County District Court to allow payments for 29,000 Minnesotans in nursing homes and 26,000 others who receive care in assisted living facilities or their homes.

Judge Kathleen Gearin plans to hear arguments on the shutdown case Thursday, but there is no indication when decisions will be made about what would continue to be funded.

While legislative leaders have not talked to Dayton since Thursday, a Republican freshman senator and the governor have talked at least twice and Dayton met with Democratic-Farmer-Laborite lawmakers Monday.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said he and Dayton continue a discussion started last month about expanding the state sales tax to more goods and services, while lowering the percentage of the tax. Such a move could eliminate the state income tax, Howe said, putting more burden on the rich who buy more goods and services.

Howe’s proposal is to pass a bill by June 30 to keep government operating, although at a reduced level, for 120 days to 150 days. During that time, he said, a commission would work on the sales tax plan.

Once the plan is written, a special legislative session would be called to finish the budget that includes new funds from the sales tax.

“We need to look at how we create a stable funding environment,” Howe said, adding that income and property taxes are not stable.

If Dayton likes the idea, Howe promised to work to get Republican support, although GOP leadership does not back the plan.

In other shutdown and budget news Monday:

– Four Republican senators asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to prevent judges from approving state spending during a shutdown. The senators’ court filing says the state Constitution only allows the Legislature, not the courts, to appropriate monday.

– The University of Minnesota Board of Regents provisionally approved 9-2 a $3.7 billion budget based on a bill the Republican-controlled Legislature passed, but Dayton vetoed. The budget would include a wage freeze and increase tuition 5 percent for most resident undergraduates. Regents Steve Sviggum and Laura Brod, both former Republican legislators, voted against the budget.

– Chief Justice Lori Gildea appointed Bruce Christopherson, a retired judge in Yellow Medicine County, to hear the case to keep the courts open during a shutdown. Gearin recused herself because there would be a conflict of interest if she decided on court funding.

– Republican legislative transportation chairmen began an around-the-state tour to convince the public and Dayton that their budget bill could be signed.

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