At the end of the regular legislative session and again in the days leading up to the state government shutdown, Republican leaders consistently would come out of meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton saying, “We’re so close.”
And later, the governor would come out of his office and say, “Not really.”
Apparently, the governor was right.
Since coming up with the deal that was supposed to end the shutdown last Thursday, the governor, his commissioners and lead Republicans have been in near constant meetings and as of mid-evening Sunday, the best anyone could come up with is “We’re close.”
Well, they are closer than they were Friday.
That was supposed to be the day that Republicans and commissioners zipped through the budget bills, stripping them of policy and setting the stage for a quickie special session Monday.
Now, leaders are hoping that a special session can be held Tuesday.
But there are no guarantees.
For the most part, all parties are being vague about what’s taking so long.
But apparently Friday was not pretty. Items in the budget bills that Dayton’s administration called “policy” were being called “reform” by Republicans.
Sometimes, the discussions over the difference between “policy” and “reform” were so contentious that meetings came to abrupt halts.
Education bill filled with disputes
The education bill, for example, has remained filled with disputes. The first meeting among Republican legislative leaders and the state’s education commissioner ended early Friday. No meetings, according to one source, were even held on Saturday and the players didn’t assemble again until Sunday afternoon.
Most Republicans and all commissioners again are operating in a near “cone of silence” mode about the meetings.
But DFLers, who are not part of the direct negotiating process, are a little more willing to talk.
Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville — a longtime advocate for public education as well as a longtime opponent of many of the things Republicans call “reform” — said Sunday night that she believes there remain substantial differences between the administration and Republican leaders in the education finance bill.
Greiling said that in the big overall agreement among Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Dayton, it was decided that there would be NO policy provisions in the budget bills unless both sides agreed.
Vouchers, a Republican favorite, disappeared immediately, as did funding for integration, which Republicans had wanted to distribute elsewhere.
But Republicans, she said, apparently still want to hold onto such things as the “A” to “F” grading of each school that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush promoted on a trip to Minnesota.
That, said Greiling, is a non-starter with DFLers, both because they consider it simplistic policy and because it acts as a $42 million unfunded mandate to schools throughout the state.
The other area that’s likely creating havoc between the administration and Republicans is the subject of teacher evaluation.
DFLers, the administration, Republicans and even the teachers union have accepted the idea of teacher evaluation.
But the Republican plan is both expensive and overly simplistic, according to Greiling. Republicans want half of the evaluation of a teacher to be based on the test performances of students.
“There need to be multiple measures,” said Greiling and although student test performance should be part of the measure, she believes it should be far less than half.
Human Services agreement reached
The good news for those who believe it’s time to end the shutdown is that there are reports that a handshake agreement has been reached on the massive Human Services budget.
But then, as of Sunday night, there even was unfinished business involving the $500 million bonding bill.
“We’re in sort of a waltz with the governor,” said Rep. Larry Howes, a lead Republican on bonding.
Who’s doing the leading?
“That’s the problem,” said Howes with a laugh. He added that neither he nor the governor is a particularly smooth dancer.
Howes is convinced that ultimately leaders and the governor will come together on bonding.
But will there be support in the caucus?
“Ummm, I think so,” said Howes.
And that may still be the diciest part of this process, which has moved far more slowly than expected: The large number of freshmen Republicans may not play the “follow the leaders” rules that usually apply to the final budget negotiations.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.