With each meeting over Minnesota’s $5 billion budget deficit comes a new wave of emotion — but no progress.
Pessimism. Optimism. Relentless optimism. Confusion. Irritation. Both lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have felt them all, and they seem to change every day.
Dayton and the GOP leaders met again Wednesday to discuss the Republicans’ “halfway point” unveiled this week.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers pointed to the plan as “big progress this week,” although no one on either side of the aisle is actually specifying that achievement.
Dayton, who has switched between optimism and pessimism over the likelihood of a partial state government shutdown beginning July 1, seemed cheerier than usual on Monday.
The governor said he was “slightly more optimistic” a government shutdown could be avoided after Monday’s meeting and the GOP proposal, which he characterized as “meaningful.”
But that cheer was nowhere to be found Wednesday — 24 hours after two of his fiscal commissioners were “berated” by Republican members of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy. And that’s after the governor instructed them not to attend the commission’s first meeting.
“I told [the Republicans] it was unacceptable,” Dayton told reporters Wednesday.
He also said that “if it [budget negotiations] continue on this course,” a partial government shutdown is more likely than before.
Although they met weekly for breakfast during the session and say they have a cordial relationship, both Dayton and the Republican leaders have complained about a “disconnect” between meetings and public comments afterward.
Dayton said, despite a respectful meeting, the GOP came out and played the “blame game,” trying to pin the state’s fiscal mess on him.
While the governor came out of his office looking slightly dejected — he took a deep breath before approaching the podium and opened with, “We had yet another meeting” — the GOP leaders are consistently upbeat.
“We are going to keep meeting. We are going to keep working. We are going to get back to growing the state economy,” Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel said after the talks.
Dayton called the whole process a “political sideshow” while the GOP has called for the governor to attend more meetings and to empower his commissioners to negotiate freely.
The governor, who requested a GOP “halfway point” last week, insists he still hasn’t gotten one. The Republicans say the plan they unveiled Monday meets the governor in the middle.
True, the Republicans met Dayton’s targets for nearly half of the state budget (K-12 education, public safety and the judiciary), but that just means the extra $110 million in spending would have to come from other budget categories..
Dayton is still pushing for new revenue to avoid the GOP’s all-cuts budget-balancing plan.
“I am not going to agree to their extreme position,” he said. “I’m not going to go all the way.”
Republicans are holding firm, though.
“We don’t believe that we need new revenue,” Zellers said, maintaining that the predicted $34 billion in revenue over the next two years is enough.