ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — With no deal on a budget and one week left until a state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders retreated behind closed doors Friday for an all-day meeting aimed at bridging their dispute over taxes and spending.
Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch emerged at the end of the roughly seven-hour meeting to say it had been a constructive day. It was impossible to know, however, if the participants moved any closer on the fundamental disagreements about the level of spending in the state budget. That’s because none would share any details about their progress — or lack thereof.
“It was a worthwhile day,” Dayton said. “I feel good about the rapport we established, about the civility that prevailed.”
Indeed, Dayton and the GOP leaders addressed reporters together at both the start and end of the meeting. Their remarks were absent the partisan rancor that had increasingly surrounded budget talks in recent weeks, and they said they’d meet for another daylong session Saturday.
Dayton said some areas of common ground were identified, but that nothing was finalized in a single budget area.
Republicans want a two-year budget that spends no more than $34 billion, the amount the state is currently projected to collect in the next two years. Dayton and legislative Democrats say that’s not enough to keep up with the growth in the need for state services driven by population increases and other factors. The governor has been pushing for another $1.8 million in new tax revenue to prevent cuts to medical assistance, colleges, public transit and other government programs.
Both sides have said they don’t want a government shutdown, which would stop paychecks for tens of thousands of state workers, close state parks, close dozens of government offices and interrupt many other government services. On Thursday, a Ramsey County judge overseeing legal preparations for the shutdown nearly begged Dayton and lawmakers to break their impasse and avert a shutdown that she said would have frightening ramifications for many Minnesotans.
Friday’s meeting was a change of scenery, held in meeting rooms near Zellers’ domain — an office suite on the fourth floor of the State Office Building adjacent to the Capitol — rather than in Dayton’s office or residence, the site of all previous meetings.
It was also by far the longest that the governor and legislative leaders have spent in a single meeting. The gathering included a rotating cast of Republican and Democratic lawmakers and administration officials, and afterward participants said they concentrated their discussions on budget bills concerning state agencies and operations, K-12 education, transportation, public safety, and jobs and economic development.
“Better late than never,” said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, who was pulled in to talk about the state government finance budget, which he helped assemble.
“We had our spreadsheets, our highlighters, it was a very productive day and we covered a lot of issue areas,” Zellers said.
Asked if he was confident that negotiations could bear fruit in time to avert a shutdown, Dayton offered a dose of reality.
“I’m not confident of anything except the sun rising,” Dayton said. “We need to see what happens tomorrow.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)