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Dayton, GOP Remain Mired In Budget Dispute

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers insisted Wednesday they don’t want the state government to shut down in eight days because of a stalemate over a new budget, but neither side appeared willing to meet the other’s demands to prevent it.

Dayton said in a morning news conference that Republicans must drop their insistence that the state not spend more than $34 billion in its upcoming two-year budget. He wants another $1.8 billion in new revenue he said should be spent on protecting about 140,000 people from losing state health care, avoiding cuts to services he said are relied upon by middle- and working-class people, and relieving pressure on local property taxpayers.

“The lives, the quality of life, and the well-being of Minnesotans are fundamentally at stake in this difference,” Dayton said.

Republicans said they’ve tried to meet Dayton’s requests in major budget areas including K-12 education, courts and public safety. But they said again Wednesday they wouldn’t agree to a budget that lifts spending above the $34 billion the state is projected to collect in the next two years.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, the two top Republicans in the Legislature, emerged from an hour-long meeting with Dayton Wednesday afternoon in which Zellers said all three agreed to lock themselves in an office Friday and Saturday and negotiate nonstop.

“We won’t leave until we have some at least consensus or a framework that we can then take back to our members, the governor can be comfortable with,” Zellers said. He and Koch suggested they could try to agree on some portions of the budget, but that clashed with Dayton’s repeated insistence that he won’t call a special legislative session until he and Republicans have agreed on the entire budget.

Deepening the impasse, both Dayton and GOP leaders insisted that they — and not the other side — have already compromised more.

“I remain willing to compromise and mystified why the Republicans will not do the same,” Dayton said.

Republican leaders insisted likewise, saying they’ve shown flexibility under their $34 billion cap in shifting money toward specific priorities of Dayton.

“It cannot be said enough that the compromise is coming from Republicans,” Koch said.

Koch’s deputy majority leader, Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, acknowledged that the two sides seemed to be talking past each other.

“It sounds like people are talking two different languages,” he said.

On Thursday, lawyers for the Dayton administration and others will appear before a Ramsey County judge to make arguments about which state services are critical to life and safety and must continue past the July 1 shutdown.

Other groups have been filing legal briefs in anticipation of Thursday’s hearing, making arguments that their specific funding streams from the state should be preserved even in the event of a shutdown. Groups representing interests ranging from local governments to battered women to nursing homes have filed briefs with the Ramsey County court.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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