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Weekend ‘lock-in’ of Dayton, GOP leaders a last-ditch effort to reach budget agreement

In a last-ditch attempt to jump-start stalled budget talks and avert a government shutdown on July 1, Gov.

In a last-ditch attempt to jump-start stalled budget talks and avert a government shutdown on July 1, Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP legislative leaders agreed Wednesday to lock themselves in a room this weekend until some progress is made on a budget solution.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers proposed the idea during a meeting Dayton called to discuss the budget with the GOP leaders Wednesday afternoon. The Republican leaders weren’t clear on exactly what level of progress needs to be made until the lock-in concludess but said they would like to agree on at least a chunk of the nine budget sectors currently unfunded.

“This is a way for us as leaders … to come to agreement on these bills,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said.

In previous compromise efforts, the GOP agreed to drop roughly $200 million in tax cuts they had originally proposed and to fund K-12 Education and Public Safety and the Judiciary —nearly half the state budget — up to Dayton’s proposed levels.

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While Koch praised the GOP compromises Wednesday, they represent no movement from the Republicans’ refusal to budge from their $34 billion budget target. Dayton, meanwhile, insists that new revenue is needed to avert “draconian” spending cuts.

Dayton’s compromise, which came in late May, would drop his proposed revenue increases by $1.8 billion. So far, the GOP leaders have maintained that new taxes are off the table —– and said just dropping the $200 million in tax brakes was a battle in their caucuses.

With only five days to avoid a shutdown after their meetings end Saturday, the GOP leaders said they’d like Dayton to sign the budget bills where they most agree or where only a small portion of the state aid comes from Minnesota’s general fund.

“We’re not going to let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Zellers said, referring to signing a handful of the budget bills but not reaching an overall budget deal.

Essentially, they’d like to be called back for a special session to sign K-12, Public Safety and Transportation packages. But Dayton reiterated Wednesday that a special session won’t happen until a global budget deal is reached. The governor and lawmakers are separated by a $1.8 billion gap in state spending.

Zellers proposed the lock-in idea at a last-minute meeting at the governor’s office that Dayton called for Wednesday, but otherwise the talks didn’t lead to any progress.

“There really wasn’t anything on the governor’s agenda,” Koch said. A Dayton administration spokesman said nothing had changed since the governor’s remarks Wednesday morning but that Dayton had agreed to the lock-in.

When asked if new revenue — a key to getting Dayton’s signature — was on the table, Koch dodged the question by saying, “That’s what Friday and Saturday will be about.”

Still, it’s unlikely any deal will be reached if neither side refuses to blink.

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Creative propositions to raise revenue, such as gambling, fees and a broader sales tax, have been gaining more headway as a shutdown approaches, but the GOP has stood firm on the $34 billion target.

Meanwhile, court proceedings regarding essential state services in the event of a government shutdown will begin Thursday. Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson have both submitted their ideas of what a shutdown would look like to the courts.

The House rules Committee Tuesday authorized Zellers to retain former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson despite DFL objections. Magnuson, who represented former gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer in the 2010 governor’s election recount, will attempt to keep the House operational during a shutdown and deflect Dayton’s request for a court-ordered mediator.

The Senate also approved a resolution last week authorizing the body to retain counsel related to a shutdown, but so far no details of Senate’s intervention plan have been released.

Despite the standoff, Koch and Zellers remained upbeat.

“We continue to be optimistic,” Koch said. “I just continue to be optimistic.”