Budget talks resume after holiday weekend

T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol Reporter

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton met July 5 with the press after meeting with Republican legislative leaders for more than an hour for budget talks. Dayton stressed his willingness to reconsider any negotiation item if it could produce progress. The governor spent some of the holiday weekend at a 90th birthday celebration for his father and playing Frisbee with his puppy Mingo. Photo by T.W. Budig

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders spent more than an hour behind closed doors on Tuesday, July 5, renewing budget negotiations after a four-day pause.

“I’m in a negotiating mode,” said Dayton, stepping outside his office after the meeting had completed.“I want to do what’s right for Minnesota.”

Although the meeting produced no breakthrough, the governor and Republican legislative leaders plan to meet again Wednesday afternoon — day six of the state government shutdown — with the human services committee chairmen and administration officials also getting together.

A joint K-12 meeting is planned for Thursday.

Dayton indicated that K-12 policy items are some of the biggest points of contention remaining to be overcome — more imposing than those in the human services bill, he explained.

“Education policy is where we have our major differences,” Dayton said.

House Health and Human Services Finance Committee Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said last Thursday that the human services bill could readily be pulled together.

“Once they agree on a (budget) target, we can get it done in a day from there,” Abeler said.

“A tremendous amount of groundwork has been done,” he said.

As for the controversial health care waivers  contained in the Republican legislation, they’re being discussed, Abeler said.

“And they’re (the Dayton Administration) quite open to them, actually,” he said.

Dayton indicated flexibility in the area of taxation, explaining while he hasn’t give up on the idea of a tax increase on wealthier Minnesotans, he can’t pass a tax bill, either. And Republicans aren’t going there, he said.

Dayton used somewhat softer language on the question of calling a special legislative session — something Republicans are still calling on him to do.

He’s willing to reconsider anything that could produce progress, Dayton said.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, left the meeting talking about the importance of immediately passing a “lights on” bill to temporarily fund state government.

“We need the governor to call us back,” Koch said.

The Republicans said that their budget offers of last week — a K-12 shift, tobacco bonds, for instance  — are no longer on the table.

But Zellers indicated they could possibly be placed back on.

“We’re good, but we’re not psychic,” said Zellers of trying to discern what budget items are of the most importance to Dayton and the DFL legislative minorities.

In related action, the Dayton Administration identified a list of other state services it deems core functions, and submitted the list to Special Master Kathleen Blatz.

Some of the perceived additional core services include special education aid, chemical dependency and mental health services, and HIV case management and counseling services.

Blatz can make recommendations to the court on the submission.