For more than four months now, the state budget divide has been the elephant in the room overshadowing any other issue at the Capitol.
On this sparkling May morning, standing before cameras and microphones on the lawn outside the Governor’s residence, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch confirmed all that.
It was her 15-year-old daughter, Rachel, who pointed out the elephant issue.
“You’re not supposed to stare at the big elephant,” Rachel told her mother, the Republican leader, after the parent had mentioned what a tough go the budget situation is at the Capitol.
Koch talked about her approach to handling such a big problem: “When you eat it, you just have to eat a little bit at time. The budget, we have to start somewhere and if you focus on the big — as you try to get this global budget agreement — that’s where the difficulty comes in. But if you start working the individual bills, we can be successful.”
Dayton still rejects piecemeal approach
Cute story, but rather than allow for some sort of aw-shucks coming together between the GOP and Gov. Mark Dayton, the tale revealed one key hurdle in striking a budget deal by next Monday. The GOP wants to pass all of its spending bills individually and have Dayton sign them one by one.
But the governor prefers to see the budget in its totality. He called the GOP collection of bills — health and human services, education, etc. — “a mosaic.” He doesn’t want to sign the moving parts into law. He wants all of the pieces to fit together.
So, Tuesday morning’s meeting at the Summit Avenue residence — soon after he met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — meant that there was no agreement on anything between the two sides.
A few little things suggesting some tiny movement in the process emerged:
• The GOP leaders extended an invitation to the governor to meet with their entire caucuses. It will probably be a combined meeting of the GOP Senate and House groups. The governor accepted.
• The governor instructed his commissioners to begin meeting with the GOP-controlled conference committees to discuss specific concerns. The GOP leaders applauded that.
On the caucus meetings, House Speaker Kurt Zellers said individual members could affect the governor’s thinking, especially the small-business owners in the caucus. He said maybe the regular members of the caucus — and not the leaders who always meet with the governor — could change Dayton’s mind by making “a compelling case” that higher taxes push business owners to other states.
Governor standing by compromise
Dayton said later he wasn’t about to change his mind on the compromise he offered Monday that includes $1.8 billion in tax increases.
Indeed, as he stood in front of his residence, the governor firmly and passionately reiterated his stance that the GOP budget would increase property taxes, take Minnesotans off health care rolls and “eviscerate” the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.
He called the consequences of the GOP budget cuts — without revenue increases — “an indefensible position.”
Of reaching a budget deal before the end of the legislative session Monday and of avoiding a state government shutdown, Dayton said: “I am pessimistic because they refuse to compromise … I’m willing to meet them halfway … Their only deal is if I agree entirely with them. I don’t and I won’t.”
With that, he walked slowly back to the Governor’s Residence, alone.