ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Minnesota lawmakers are entering the last week of the 2015 session, but there’s little to show for it.
Republicans and Democrats are far apart on the biggest spending bills of the year despite intense behind-the-scenes negotiations, and an unusual “Fishing Summit” on Saturday.
Gov.Mark Dayton shared a boat with Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk for the fishing opener, but they were too busy to talk budget.
“I know people kind of expected us to talk about the budget,” Sen. Bakk said, “but the truth is: to catch 35 walleye in just under 3 hours — it seemed like someone always seemed to have a fish on so it was quite a distraction.”
The unusual get-together on Lake Vermilion was one of the few times all three top leaders were together at the same time, in the same place.
“We had fun,” Rep. Daudt said. “We smoked a couple of cigars, caught a bunch of fish and had a great time.”
After a series of day-long, closed-door meetings at the Capitol Monday, Republicans and Democrats are not close to agreement on much of anything.
In fact, some “big fish” bills are in jeopardy: transportation and tax cuts.
“They are not ‘must pass’ bills,” Sen. Bakk said.
Without a budget deal, the legislature cannot pass an education bill, including one of the governor’s top priorities: free, all day Pre-K.
And both sides are canyons apart on human services, from which Republicans want to eliminate Minnesota Care — a health care program for the working poor.
The good news: Both sides are trying to make a deal.
And getting to know each other fishing may have helped.
“It’s much better and the negotiations go much smoother if you can have a good relationship outside of the capitol, and you know each other on a personal level,” said Daudt. “I think that helps in negotiations.”