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Familiar budget rhetoric: Today, Dayton chides GOP lawmakers; tomorrow, it’s their turn

How many times can the same people say the same thing in different ways?
Today, it was Gov.

How many times can the same people say the same thing in different ways?

Today, it was Gov. Mark Dayton’s turn to say that its legislative Republican leaders shirking their duty to come up with “an honest and balanced” budget.

This was the day after Republican leaders traveled throughout the state extolling the virtues of their budget, which they say is honest, balanced and includes no new taxes — unlike the governor’s “tax-increasing, job-killing’’ budget proposal. 

But the governor continues to insist that some of the numbers Republicans are using are pure fantasy.

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The governor and the Minnesota Management and Budget office appear to have coined a new term to describe these numbers:  “Potential numbers at risk.”

Dayton’s office is claiming that $1.2 billion in House budgeting bills are “at risk” and that the Senate’s budgeting bills include 1.18 billion of at-risk dollars.

To make matters more complicated, Dayton said, House and Senate conference committees haven’t agreed on most of the finance bills, meaning nothing is moving toward the governor, meaning there’s only posturing, not negotiating, going on between the governor and the Legislature.

Dayton said today he wants those bills on his desk by Friday, May 6.

“That would give us 17 days to negotiate differences,” he said.

Dayton’s words were sometimes strong today.

For example, he described the process today as “theater of the absurd.”

Yet, at the same time, his tone remained calm. His breakfast meeting with Republican leaders this morning apparently was like all of those that have proceeded it – calm and cordial.

“We get along well personally,” he said. “They’re good people.”

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Dayton said he even understands why Republican leaders are so reluctant to use what he considers honest budgeting practices.

They’re trying to hide “their Draconian cuts,” the governor said. In fact, they can’t create a real $34 billion all-cuts budget that Minnesotans would find acceptable.

Beyond those basic cuts-verses-taxes philosophical differences, the “at risk” dollars now loom as the newest, big stumbling block toward achieving agreement by May 23.

The big fantasy number in the Republican budget, DFLers say, is a federal Medicaid waiver Republicans want to receive from the feds. That would amount to $772 million in the House budget and $600 million in the Senate budget. In reality it should be $0, according to Dayton.

Other “at risk” dollars, Dayton says, were created by Republicans because they are not using data supplied by the Management and Budget office. Rather, they’re using data supplied by “private consultants.”

But this portion of the debate has become ever more vague.

Earlier in the session, Republican leaders were saying that private consultants were offering them different budget numbers from what MMB was passing out.

But they weren’t saying just who those consultants were and if they were getting paid.

By last week, House Speaker Kurt Zellers was saying that no private consultants were directly involved in the Republican budget preparations. Rather, references to private consultants was based on testimony by various people given to various committees at various times.

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All mysterious.

But there is no need for mystery in the process, the governor insisted.

He wants the House and Senate, using MMB numbers, to come forward with a single position. Then, Dayton said, he can sit down and negotiate his position, put forward 70 days ago, with their position.

He seemed slightly offended when asked about which side would “blink” in this showdown.

“To do this responsibly is not about who blinks,” Dayton said. “It’s about finding middle ground. We’re both going to have to give up something.”

What’s the governor willing to give up?

“I’m not going to negotiate with myself,” said Dayton.

But he was willing “to do the math.”

The whole process began with a $5.1 billion deficit. With $1.4 billion in shifts (from the delayed school aid) that amount becomes $3.7 billion. If the two sides split the difference — $1.85 billion in new revenues, $1.85 billion in cuts — everyone could go home on time.

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“That’s not my position — that’s the math,’’ Dayton said.

On Wednesday, it will be Republican legislators’ turn to come up with a new way to “same” the same thing they’ve been saying since the session began.