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Still-optimistic GOP can’t pinpoint budget progress

With less than three weeks to go, GOP legislative leaders on Thursday were unable to point to any real progress in reconciling their budget with Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal.

With less than three weeks to go, GOP legislative leaders on Thursday were unable to point to any real progress in reconciling their budget with Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal.

Sen. Majority Leader Amy Koch said conference committees for the nine remaining budget bills will continue meeting next week, and she hopes some might be brought to the floor for a vote in that period.

Republican leaders are still optimistic about ending the session with a balanced budget by the May 23 deadline. That view stands in sharp contrast with hints from Dayton about the possibility of a special session and outright disbelief from Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

“The inaction is almost stunning, how little work has been accomplished,” Bakk said. “We’re just running out of time here.”

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Dayton told reporters on Wednesday that his “optimism is waning” about the possibility of meeting the May deadline, according to the Pioneer Press.

Bakk, on the other hand, openly discussed the logistics of a partial government shutdown if the governor and the Legislature can’t come to an agreement on how to plug Minnesota’s $5 billion shortfall.

The pronounced differences between Dayton and the Republican majority have been apparent since the first days of session. The GOP wants an “all cuts” budget while Dayton had advocated a “balanced” approach. Both parties are pointing fingers about whose fault the lack of progress is.

Republicans maintain that Dayton should join his agency commissioners in working through the GOP conference committees.

“I just wish the governor would add his voice to that work,” Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel said. “Not as a commentator from up in the cheap seats, but roll up your sleeves, Governor … there’s plenty of time left.”

Michel said Dayton is cordial during his weekly breakfasts with legislative leaders, but “by the end of the afternoon, he’s Governor Gloomy.”

Dayton says he’s waiting for one unified legislative position before he wades into the fray. The Republicans reply, “He sounds like a guy who just wants to veto things.”

One side will have to cave or both will have to compromise. So far, neither is willing to admit which it will be.

For example: “If the Republicans think the governor is going to blink, I think they are underestimating him badly,” Bakk said. “In conversations I have had with him, he has said, ‘There is going to be a fourth tier in the income tax.’ ”

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Koch stopped just short of confirming that Republicans won’t compromise on their hard-line $34 billion budget to avert a special session.

She did, however, say that it’s the GOP’s “goal” to come to an agreement with Dayton on the bills before they’re sent for his signature. That makes things trickier because it leaves Republicans less time to resolve their own differences.

But, again, that optimism came into play.

“Two and a half weeks is a lifetime in legislative sessions,” Michel said.

Constitutional amendments
In the midst of conference committees and policy discussions, GOP lawmakers have been busy proposing constitutional amendments that would go on the November 2012 ballot.

The amendments range from allowing voters to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman to prohibiting the state from spending more than it received in revenue during the previous biennium.

Koch couldn’t specifically describe the floor schedule for such constitutional amendments over the next two weeks, but she did say, “They’re not all going to get floor action this year. It’ll be a mix.”

The gay marriage constitutional amendment will be heard Friday in the Senate Rules Committee.