State Budget Talks Continue, But No Deal

Bakk, Sieben, aides head to budget talks

By Don Davis

Minnesota’s top Democratic politicians met Saturday, trying to figure out how to raise and spend $38 billion over the next two years, but apparently fell short of a deal.

Gov. Mark Dayton flew back to St. Paul Saturday, cutting his time at the governor’s fishing opener short to resume negotiations.

Dayton and top legislative leaders sat down in the governor’s reception room shortly after 2 p.m. By 3 p.m., Dayton aide Bob Hume told the few reporters staking out the Capitol talks that it probably would be safe for them to go home, an indication that a long afternoon — and maybe night — of talks was ahead.

Headed into the meeting, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the leaders were “very close.” He said he was ready to work on Sunday if needed.

Joining Bakk in the all-Democratic-Farmer-Laborite meeting were Assistant Senate Majority Leader Katie of Cottage Grove, House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy of St. Paul. Key financial aides also were in the room.

Republicans have not been invited to negotiations.

The Capitol was unusually quiet for the next-to-last weekend before the Legislature must adjourn.

A couple of conference committees met to work out differences between House and Senate budget bills, but negotiators on individual budget bills can make little progress until Dayton and legislative leaders tell them how much they have to spend in each budget area.

Budget talks this year took on a new atmosphere since for the first time in 22 years the House, Senate and governor’s office all are controlled by one party. The Democrats in charge have said little about what is happening during the closed-door negotiations.

The three sides went into talks with much agreement about how to spend $38 billion in the next two-year budget. However, they differed on how to raise taxes to support that spending.

The House and Dayton suggest about $2 billion more in taxes, while the Senate is looking at closer to $2.6 billion.

All three would raise taxes on the best earners, but details vary.

Republicans generally say Minnesota government does not need more money.

“Once again, hardworking taxpayers are put on the hook to pay for Democrats’ big spending plans,” Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said after Democrats Friday passed a nickel-a-gallon gasoline tax increase over the next four years. “We don’t need any more money. What we need is effective and efficient use of the tax dollars we already collect.”

Dayton announced in January his preference to increase the number of goods and services covered by the state sales tax, but after hearing loud protests from the public and businesses he removed that provision.

When Dayton revised his budget proposal, he did not have enough money to fund his proposed property tax relief package.

Senate Democrats picked up on the sales tax plan when they released their proposal. But Dayton said he would oppose it.

House Democrats proposed putting an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest Minnesotans for two years, with proceeds going to repay schools for money the state borrowed from them.