Minnesota budget talks turn to blame gameby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Gov. Dayton will meet Thursday with the 109 Republican members of the Minnesota Legislature to talk about the state budget. The meeting comes just four days before the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to finish its work.
As the clock ticks closer to Monday, the talking points are shifting from whether a budget agreement can be reached to who is at fault for forcing a likely special session.
It isn't clear what Dayton's meeting with Republican lawmakers will accomplish. The two sides are on different tracks when it comes to passing a budget for the next two years, and closing the projected $5 billion budget shortfall.
The House and Senate are working around the clock to pass budget bills and send them to the governor. Dayton says those budget bills have no chance of becoming law.
"I'm not going to let them become law without my signature," said Dayton. "So within three days I will be rejecting the bills and sending them back to the leadership."
Dayton accused Republicans of failing to negotiate, since they started wrapping up their budget bills only hours after Dayton met with legislative leaders to talk about letting state commissioners take the lead in budget talks.
Dayton said he's not hopeful that an agreement will be reached by Monday. He said Republicans aren't budging on their budget plan, even though he scaled back his income tax hike twice in an effort to reach a budget deal.
While Dayton accuses Republicans of having their feet stuck in cement, Republicans argue that Dayton is the one who isn't willing to negotiate.
"Trying to get a negotiating strategy that is consistent so far for all of us is like nailing Jello to a tree," said Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers.
Zellers claims the governor keeps changing the rules.
"One week it's, 'Come and meet with us.' Another week it's, 'My commissioners are empowered to negotiate,'" said Zellers. "They come into conference committees and they all have a very prepared script. They say, 'I can't negotiate financing. I can't negotiate this. I can't negotiate that.'"
While the two sides quibble over the status of negotiations, the stakes for Minnesota are huge. Republicans say Dayton's plan to increase income taxes on the state's top earners will stifle economic growth. Democrats say GOP cuts will hurt people who depend on a variety of state programs.
DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said Democrats are inviting the public and Gov. Dayton's commissioners to an afternoon hearing to talk about the impact of the cuts.
Bakk said the GOP budget plan could force hospitals to close, and take away health insurance for 140,000 low-income Minnesotans. He said it would also force the state's colleges and universities to increase tuition, and cause local governments to increase property taxes.
Bakk said raising income taxes on top earners is a better option.
"It is shameful that on the floor of the House they wear a penny on their lapel, proud that they're not going to take one more penny from a millionaire, but will jeopardize the health and safety of Minnesotans across this state because we refuse to take a penny from a millionaire. You have got to be kidding me," said Bakk.
Bakk acknowledged that his hearing will do little to influence Republicans in the House and Senate. The Senate spent most of Wednesday debating, and eventually passing, a State Government Finance bill and a Health and Human Services budget plan. Democrats took their time debating those items -- with long and sometimes wandering speeches.
Republicans defended their budget plans. During the debate over the Health and Human Services budget, Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said the state can't continue to spend at its current rate.
"If we continue down the path that we've all been on for decades, the system is not sustainable and we will all end up lacking in health care and other things that we need," said Thompson.
If there's no budget agreement by midnight Monday, it'll take a special session to get the job done.
- Morning Edition, 05/19/2011, 8:45 a.m.