Attention turns to special session as Capitol gridlock continuesby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — With only a few hours to go in the legislative session, state lawmakers are plodding toward a midnight adjournment with no hope of reaching a budget agreement.
DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican leaders remain at an impasse over how best to erase a projected $5 billion budget deficit. Their disagreement will now carry over to a special session and possibly lead to a government shutdown.
For weeks, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove stayed upbeat and optimistic about reaching a a final budget deal by the constitutional deadline for adjournment. But with the clock ticking on the final day, Zellers conceded that even if an agreement came together soon, the Legislature wouldn't have time to process bills before the midnight deadline.
Zellers said during an interview on MPR's Midday that he sees a difference between a special session and what he termed "a little overtime."
"If we have a little extra time or a bonus time, I think that's probably maybe not expected or from some people's standpoint a good thing," Zellers said. "But considering where we are and what we've done this session, I think it would probably be all right."
Zellers wasn't the only one looking ahead to some bonus time. GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo said her preference would be to return quickly for a special session.
"As things click along toward June, I would fear that people might get more dug in," Koch said. "If we're making some good progress, it might be best to just get back to work. But it's obviously up to the governor."
But the governor and Republicans are still miles apart on taxes and spending. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners and Republicans oppose any tax increases. They also oppose spending more than $34 billion over the next two years. Dayton, who unveiled a smaller tax proposal last week, said he's the only one willing to compromise.
"That leaves me with two choices: just keep waiting in the middle, which is what I'm doing, or go all the way over and agree to $3.6 billion in cuts, which I think would be devastating for hundreds of thousands of people throughout Minnesota," the governor said.
Dayton said he won't call back legislators immediately for a special session. If the impasse lingers through the end of the fiscal year on June 30, some functions of state government would start shutting down. But Dayton said Minnesotans won't stand for it.
"To me that would be really a catastrophic occurrence and one that I remain hopeful we can avoid," Dayton said.
Dayton and his commissioners held a series of meetings with conference committee chairs on the individual budget bills Republicans finalized last week. Without an overall budget agreement, Dayton is expected to veto those bills, but he said he won't take action until Tuesday, after adjournment of the regular session.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, urged Dayton to instead start signing the bills now. Michel said he's not ready to give up.
"I don't want to talk about special session. I don't want to talk about overtime. Let's get our work done," Michel said.
Democrats weren't sharing Michel's optimism. Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, was already looking beyond the midnight deadline and assessing the session.
"It's clear that the work will not get done on time, unfortunately," she said. "I think this session, this is my 13th, is about the biggest failure I can recall. Absolutely nothing has gotten done. Very, very unproductive."
Lenczewski said the governor and Republicans will have to come together and compromise. She said it's just a matter of when.
- All Things Considered, 05/23/2011, 5:25 p.m.