Budget Talks Resume With Agreement To Talk Some More

Dayton meets with reporters

Minnesota state government is in a partial shutdown and the first budget negotiations in days resulted in nothing more than an agreement to meet again.

When Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton was asked what can be done to reach a budget deal with Republican leaders, his only response was: “That’s our challenge. … We are out of possibilities at this point.”

Republicans said they asked Dayton the same things they have for weeks, to agree on some spending measures and pass a temporary state budget for areas where the two sides don’t agree.

Neither side offered any new ideas Tuesday, the first time they had met since talks broke down Thursday night amid rancor.

The top two legislative Republicans meet with Dayton again this afternoon, but neither side could give reporters any indication that that Minnesotans should expect a budget deal soon.

Also on Day 5 of the government shutdown, a former chief justice continued hearing pleas from organizations that think they should keep state funding despite the state lacking a budget. And a pair of well-known former political leaders established a committee they hope will draw up a budget plan by the end of the week.

The main job, writing a two-year state budget, gained no headway Tuesday.

A meeting among Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zeller, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, ended with the fundamental difference that has separated the sides for months intact. Dayton wants to spend more than the Republican limit of $34 billion over two years.

When pressed whether he would insist on his long-held desire to reach an overall budget deal before approving individual budget areas, Dayton relented a bit on Tuesday: “I want to do what is right for Minnesota. … I am willing to consider anything.”

Koch said that before talks broke down Thursday, “we had tremendous momentum on health and humans services,” a commonly divisive funding bill that provides money for things such as state-sponsored health care programs.

Koch and Zellers said they are close on total spending in several areas of the state budget, even if they disagree on policy changes within those areas.

Health and humans services negotiations resume this morning, with Dayton meeting with Zellers and Koch this afternoon. Dayton joins education budget negotiators on Thursday.

In the meantime, former Vice President Walter Mondale and ex-Gov. Arne Carlson formed a committee of former legislators, state finance officials and business leaders to draw up a budget proposal.

A committee co-chairman did not sound optimistic.

“I don’t know, but I will give it a shot,” former Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said when asked about prospects the panel could produce a deal, adding that finding a compromise lawmakers and Dayton can approve would be a long shot.

While Dille is a Republican, Democrats often tried to recruit him when he was in the Senate. On Tuesday, he said that his fellow Republicans are off base.

“I don’t think the Republicans are right in portraying Minnesota as being a terrible state,” he said of GOP comments about ill treatment of businesses.

The former senator said he could support placing the sales tax on more services while lowering the state income tax, a plan that Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, proposed but many Republicans rejected.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, criticized Mondale and Carlson. Mondale, he said, was part of Jimmy Carter’s White House with a reputation of hurting the economy and Carlson-supported tax increases helped put Minnesota’s economy in the trouble it faces today.

Also Tuesday, former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz continued in her role as “special master” in hearing from programs that lost funding in a shutdown but felt they should continue to operate.

Dayton last month presented to a judge a long list of programs he felt should be continued, which would keep a third of state executive branch employees working during a shutdown, but now has suggested extending those to include special education aid; chemical dependency and mental health services; HIV case management and counseling services; services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes; and child care assistance and services for the homeless, the disabled and other vulnerable Minnesotans.

While much of the executive branch is closed, the Legislature and courts continue to operate at full strength.

One of the most visible closures due to the shutdown is state parks and Washington County authorities say that a group of people burglarized and vandalized Afton State Park over the holiday weekend when the park was not staffed.

Sheriff Bill Hutton said since the park was closed, nobody was around to stop three buildings from being burglarized and damaged late Sunday or early Monday.

“If the place would have been open, I strongly suspect that this would not have occurred,” Hutton said.

Eleven adults from around the Twin Cities were arrested and booked into Washington County jail Monday, and a 17-year-old female from Inver Grove Heights also was taken into custody. Investigators were seeking one additional suspect Tuesday, Hutton said.

Blatz hearing
Koch, Zellers