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Dayton vents this morning and GOP this afternoon over budget

Letters are flying back and forth. The governor’s disgusted, and Republican legislative leaders are, too. A hearing this afternoon is fueling the latest disagreement.

Letters are flying back and forth. The governor’s disgusted — perhaps, really disgusted. Republican legislative leaders are disgusted, too.

His fault. Their fault. A shutdown is 28 days away.

In other words: situation normal at the state Capitol this morning.

Here’s how bad it is in this post-legislative session “cooling-off period.”

Dayton seeks budget ‘mediator’
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to use a mediator to help “set the parameters” of discussions between him and Republicans over how to resolve their budget difficulties.

Actually, Dayton thinks two mediators might be needed.

He’d appoint one. The Republicans would appoint the other.

So far, though, Republicans haven’t agreed to the idea of any mediators.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/Terry Gydesen
Gov. Mark Dayton

Instead, they’ve really irritated Dayton by dusting off something called the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy. The committee they appointed includes 13 Republicans and five DFLers. And House Minority Leader Paul Thissen was left off altogether.

Shortly after 4 p.m. Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers sent two of Dayton’s commissioners, Jim Schowalter and Myron Frans, a letter requesting their presence this afternoon for a session/grilling before this commission.

The governor did not receive a letter telling him of the Republican plan to interrogate his commissioners. (It should be pointed out that reporters did.)

Instead, he received a phone call from one of the commissioners.

How’d the governor react to this bit of information?

“There they go again,” said Dayton at a media event this morning.

Seldom has Dayton appeared so disgusted as he appeared this morning. Words like “grandstanding” and “stunt”and “not rational” and “not responsible” and “antic” flowed from his lips.

He has told the commissioners they are not to appear before the committee.

“They [Republican leaders] would berate a couple of commissioners because I won’t negotiate against myself,” Dayton said.

Legislative Commission prompts sparring
There’s a legal question involved here. There’s some thought that the Legislative Commission has legal authority to demand commissioners to appear.

“There was no public notice about this meeting,” said Dayton of the Republican effort to call his Management and Budget commissioner and his Finance commissioner to this afternoon’s hearing. “They didn’t get a letter until after 4 o’clock [Wednesday] for a meeting today. Let’s get real here. We are NOT at the beck and call of the Legislature.”

As always, the governor pounded home the point that he has compromised on his position. Initially, the budget for 2012-13 was set to be $39 billion. Dayton has cut that number to $35.8 billion.

Republicans claim they started with a plan to come up with an all-cuts budget of $32 billion, but have “compromised” at $34 billion. (The higher Republican number came with the improved economic forecast in March.)

Even given the Republicans’ baseline $32 billion, Dayton said this morning, his compromise number is closer to a midpoint.

“What are they willing to do?” he asked, his voice filled with frustration. “I’ve agreed to part of their solution. … They need to agree to part of mine.”

Republicans don’t seem to think so.

They repeat their position — no new revenue — over and over again, even in the “cooling-off” period.

“I’m taking a stand,” the governor said, “because the consequences for hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans would be just terrible [under the Republican proposal].”

What is interesting in Phase 2 of this impasse is that the Republicans have turned to the Legislative Commission that they ridiculed just a year ago, when it was dusted off and brought into prominence when DFLers were in the majority of both legislative bodies.

A year ago, Republicans were sneering at the commission, which hadn’t been a prominent factor in government for years. They said it was just a political platform for then-House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, who had visions of becoming the next governor.

Kelliher did use the commission to berate the Pawlenty administration.

Now, it’s the Republicans turn to use the same tool.

Dayton says there’s a fundamental difference. Last year, he said DFLers used the commission only while the Legislature was in session.

That’s not completely accurate. The bulk of the Pawlenty bashing before the commission did happen while the Legislature was in session, but the commission continued to meet after the session as well.

Ultimately, of course, the commission was pretty much powerless against the governor.

Whether the same will be true this year, remains to be seen.

Certainly, the use of the commission does give the Republicans a chance to vent in a public forum, as Dayton did this morning.

Just what impact all of this venting will have on a meeting that the governor and legislative leaders are to have Friday morning about their budget stalemate is unclear.

Perhaps, all of this is just the storm before the calm.

More likely, though, more storms are headed our way.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.