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Shutdown prep begins as Dayton blames 'right wing'

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota officials are preparing for a July 1 government shutdown after Gov. Mark Dayton blamed right-wing Republicans for refusing to compromise on a new state budget.

Democrat Dayton on Tuesday vetoed Republican lawmakers' $34 billion budget plan for the next two years and said there is a "strong likelihood" of a shutdown.

"I've come to realize that the problem really resides with some of the extreme right-wing caucus members, especially some of the new members, who seemingly understand little about government and care even less," Dayton said in announcing his vetoes, "and unfortunately the leadership seems to be held captive to their extremism and whipped up by the Republican Party. If that continues, the best interest of all Minnesotans it not going to be served."

Dayton said GOP legislative leaders understand what is needed to reach a deal, but a majority of their members are more conservative and unwilling to compromise.

"I am pessimistic that I can change their opinions," Dayton said, and encouraged Minnesotans to pressure their lawmakers to reach a budget agreement.

The Legislature adjourned its regular session before Monday midnight, the state constitutional deadline, with most of the Republican-written budget sitting on Dayton's desk for his signature or veto. Tuesday's vetoes guarantee a special session to enact a budget for the next two years, but Dayton said there is a good chance there will be no agreement by the time the current budget runs out on July 1.

Republican leaders relentlessly have said they will spend no more than $34 billion in the next two years and reject any tax increases. Dayton, meanwhile, proposes a $35.8 billion budget, with $1.8 billion of tax increases for top 2 percent of Minnesota earners.

"Many of the new (Republican lawmakers) came in and they said, 'Let's live within our means and reduce spending...'" said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, a Republican House leader. "So they were wanting to start at a $32 billion. ... Through this process, the Republican Party has moved to $34 billion, where the governor still was at $36 billion. So for him to say there wasn't any compromise isn't an accurate statement."

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said just after adjournment that she expected budget negotiations to resume this week.

The disputes go well beyond their spending targets. Dayton needed 34 pages to tell lawmakers why he rejected the nine tax and budget bills.

The only portion of the state budget with money for the next two years is agriculture. Lawmakers and Dayton agreed to that bill earlier in the session, so programs such as food inspections will continue.

The feeling in the Capitol as the legislative session ended was gloomy and many predicted a government shutdown, seeing no compromise on the horizon.

"It is my 35th and my worse," Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said about the session. "It looks like the next deadline is June 30."

Koch said voters elected Republicans to keep a check on government.

"We were issued a challenge by the voters, we accepted and we delivered," she said as the Senate adjourned at 11:43 p.m. Monday.

Later, she said that agreeing to an overall spending target "seems almost impossible."

Still, she said that she wants negotiating sessions with Dayton sooner rather than later to prevent "people from digging in."

Koch and House Speaker Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said there are many areas where they and Dayton agree. However, they are relatively minor agreements compared to the overall budget dispute.

A special session did not bother Zellers: "I don't think a little bit of overtime ... is a bad thing."

Zellers and Dayton agreed that once a budget agreement is inked, a special session could take up items such as a bonding bill for flood and tornado relief, a Vikings football stadium plan and the legacy bill that funds outdoor and arts programs.

But Zellers said he would not guarantee any topic other than the budget would come up in a special session.

Dayton said 11,000 state workers would lose their jobs under the Republican budget plan and 140,000 poor, disabled and elderly Minnesotan would lose health care.

"It is wrong, it is so unMinnesotan," Dayton said.

Dayton had refused to prepare for a potential shutdown until Tuesday. But in the afternoon he met with Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget, the lead agency for any shutdown.

A court likely would decide who would be considered essential employees and remain on the job after July 1. Minnesotans could expect many services to shut down, perhaps including state parks over the busy Independence Day weekend.

Kari Lucin of the Worthington Daily Globe contributed to this story. 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.