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Despite both sides’ certainty that they’re ‘right,’ Minnesotans will blame them all if shutdown happens

Most mainstream Minnesotans will be angry at both the governor and the legislative leadership if they fail to take a relatively small step toward the compromise required to end this budget impasse.• GOP leaders again seek special session, bu

The only thing that is certain is that there will be finger-pointing if a shutdown does take place.

Republicans will try to blame Gov. Mark Dayton and DFLers for the looming shutdown. The governor and DFLers will try to blame Republicans.

But most of these same finger-pointing pols will understand that most mainstream Minnesotans will be angry at all of them for failing to take a relatively small step toward the compromise required to end this budget impasse.

That’s what this battle has come down to a biennial budget that would range from $34 billion (the Republican end point) to $35.8 billion (the governor’s desired goal).

Only the activists on either side say, “Don’t cave in!”

Fuming citizens will fault them all
Most Minnesotans will be fuming over the inconvenience, pain and expense that is sure to come with a shutdown.

Who’s at fault?

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, is convinced that his governor and party are holding the high moral ground. But he understands that the public might not be so willing to accept that belief.

Rep. Ryan Winkler
Rep. Ryan Winkler

“It’s like Israel and Palestine,” Winkler said. “It becomes so complex that people can’t figure out who’s right so they get mad at both sides.”

But that’s probably not fair, either.

Although it’s impossible to get past personal biases in making “who’s right?” judgments in this political/philosophical dispute, on the surface it appears that the governor has worked harder at compromise than Republicans.

Go back to the beginning of this session.

Dayton offended part of the DFL base by quickly signing off on a regulatory “streamlining” bill that cuts corners on environmental regulations for businesses looking to expand or build.

He followed that by signing off on an alternative teacher licensure bill that offended many in the teachers union, which also long has been part of the DFL base.

He also quickly gave in on his own initial budget, which included a wide swath of taxes.

All of these things were done in an effort to show Republicans, or at least the public, that Dayton understood he was working with a divided government and would need to compromise.

Even on his cherished “tax the rich” slogan of the campaign, Dayton has shown signs that he’s willing to compromise.

Yes, he repeatedly has said that he believes a tax increase on the 2 percent of the highest wage earners in the state is the best — and fairest — way to raise revenue. After all, the richest do pay a smaller percentage of their incomes on state taxes than the rest of us.

But for months, he also repeatedly has said that he would entertain any forms of new revenues that might be presented to him as a way to close a deal.

Barring a startling change in the political climate sometime today, it appears that Republican legislative leaders either have offered no new revenues or insufficient ones in those “cone of silence” meetings in the last few days.

‘New revenue’ a key issue
Interestingly, there are members of the Republican caucus who believe that there are alternatives to the income tax deal Dayton wants. Those alternatives include everything from fee increases to racinos to broadening the sales tax to placing a tax on every cocktail and beer sold in Minnesota.

Those options may not raise the $1.8 billion Dayton says he must have, but they might break the stalemate.

Gov. Mark Dayton
MinnPost/James Nord
Gov. Mark Dayton

It should be noted that Republicans claim — and, in some cases, may actually believe — they have compromised. Initially, recall, they campaigned on a pledge to hold the budget to $32 billion, and moved to $34 billion only after an improved economic forecast.

In recent weeks, they also say they have compromised by moving more money to K-12 and higher education. But, in fact, that’s been no compromise at all. They’ve merely upped the education antes by slicing more money from un-named sources (presumably already deeply cut Human Services).

Mostly, however, Republicans seem to have been tied to party ideology, which is a tough way to operate a divided government.

Even some of their members will very privately grumble that the party, not the individual senators and representatives, has the big voice in these negotiations. That’s especially true in the Senate, where the conservative voices speak loudest.

The clear signal that Republicans in the Senate weren’t going to be of a mind to compromise started shortly after the elections, when Dave Senjem, who had served as the Senate’s minority leader, was dumped as the chamber’s titular leader and replaced by the combo package of Amy Koch and Geoff Michel.

Senjem could rattle the rafters with pretty conservative oratory, but he also seemed to have more appreciation for making a deal and going home than the Koch/Michel team has shown.

From the beginning of the session, the new Republican leaders have put themselves in a difficult spot by insisting they would not move beyond what became the $34 billion total budget. (That amount, it should be noted, is less than the state spent in the previous biennium, because the previous biennium was pumped up by federal stimulus money and by “borrowing” money that was supposed to go to the state’s public schools.)

But all of that background is pretty nuanced — and most likely will be ignored by most Minnesotans who only will understand that the state government they pay for is closed. They will blame both sides.

DFLers, however, believe Dayton can withstand that heat more easily than Republicans.

All legislators stand for election in 2012, meaning voters can vent their anger at the polls then. Dayton won’t be running again until 2014, if he opts to run for a second turn.

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