ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota’s top lawmakers began court-ordered mediation Thursday to settle a bitter budget battle that’s threatening hundreds of House and Senate jobs.
It’s all because Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the Legislature’s operating budget to force Republicans back to the bargaining table.
Currently, there’s no agreement in sight, and the Legislature is set to run out of money beginning Oct. 1.
As it stands, the Legislature has enough money in reserve to continue operations until Dec. 1. After that, the jobs of hundreds of staffers are in jeopardy.
Minnesota’s top lawmakers began the secret meetings Thursday in the highrise offices of a Minneapolis law firm.
Because of a gag order from the mediator, Dayton refuses to answer questions.
But it’s the governor who vetoed funding for the Legislature — a separate branch of government — because he says he was forced to sign budget bills he didn’t like.
One Republican lawmaker compares Dayton’s tactics to hostage taking.
“There could be potential hostage taking situation here where if this issue is not resolved, there are going to be a lot of state employees who are laid off,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, of Farmington, said.
The political standoff is costing taxpayers more than $1,000 an hour for two law firms and a mediator, with legal fees expected to top $1 million.
All the mediating is conducted in secret, and one lawmaker is advocating for more openness.
“There’s no question about it — hatching a deal in secret usually doesn’t end up being the best deal in the long run,” said Rep. John Lesch (D-St. Paul). “And we end up having to fix it in later sessions.”
The mediation began Thursday and it will likely continue through Friday.