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State leaders say they are ready to negotiate budget

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's legislative leaders and governor say, in effect, that they are done negotiating with themselves and at least are talking about working together on a new state budget.

But in case that does not work, several of Gov. Mark Dayton's commissioners have begun work on what to do if lawmakers and Dayton do not agree on a budget by July 1 and the government runs out of money.

Dayton said some commissioners are looking into the impact of a potential shutdown.

Republicans say they compromised in setting a budget target of $34 billion, when many of their members wanted to spend $30 billion or $32 billion in the next two years. A compromise Dayton offered on Monday brings his spending plan down to $35.8 billion from $37 billion, which already was below what he considered an ideal spending package.

After a breakfast meeting in the governor's residence this morning, there were no signs either side would back down.

"I am pessimistic because they refuse to compromise," Dayton said.

However, he could meet as early as today with Republican legislative caucuses.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, acknowledged that Dayton remained committed to his tax-increase proposal, although his Monday plan seeks just half as much new revenue as his earlier version. Zellers said small-business-owning Republicans would like a chance to speak with Dayton about the proposal.

The speaker said that GOP leaders may not change his mind, but "maybe it's our members."

Dayton said he has authorized his commissioners to begin budget negotiations in the six days left of the regular legislative session.

Dayton has been consistent in not negotiating before House-Senate conference committees completed negotiating differences between bills the two bodies passed.

He said he would be happy to meet with Republican caucuses. He said his compromise from Monday was rejected, leaving him doubtful a deal can be reached.

If no deal is reached by adjournment day on Monday, Dayton could call a special session. The real deadline is June 30, the final day of the current budget. If no deal is reached by then, much of state government could shut down.

Until today, Dayton denied he was working on what to do in a shutdown. But this morning he said some commissioners were doing that.

In this morning's meeting, Republicans asked Dayton to abandon his tax increase proposal, but Dayton said doing so would hurt middle income families at the expense of the wealthiest in the state.

"I can't believe they are willing to do all that harm to middle income people to protect the wealthiest 2 percent," he said. "It is, to me, an indefensible position."

Dayton also will meet with Republican caucuses.

"We'd like to give him a chance to come in and pitch his tax increase proposal," Senate Majority leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.

Leaders said other states have balanced large deficits without raising taxes.

Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.