Bogged down in budget details, two sides repeat a familiar refrain: ‘We’re close’

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.

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

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
Rep. Mindy Greiling

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.

Rep. Larry Howes
Rep. Larry Howes

“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.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/18/2011 - 09:21 am.

    Really, now?

    So the sausage is being made now in a “cone of silence”? The bellowing of sacred cows being slaughtered behind closed doors.

    Democracy in action.

    Without Democrats or constituents, except for the most well-connected.

    I guess our position is reduced to waiting for the still-warm and bloody sausage to be handed out to us to choke down over the next couple of years.

  2. Submitted by Richard Pecar on 07/18/2011 - 10:33 am.

    Stand easy at the helm, Gov…take’m one wave at a time.

  3. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 07/18/2011 - 10:41 am.

    I think if we slash the human services budget enough eventually all the poor and needy and disabled people will die off or go back where they came from or be put in prison where they belong and our future will be free of budget deficits without the need off having to raise my tax burden. That way I can afford the new teak and platinum upgrade on my cabin cruiser/second home. That seems fairest.

    Then we can work on making it too difficult to be a teacher in a poor school district like Minneapolis by giving all the teachers failing grades. Then when all the schools close down, budgets go down, property taxes go down, and all those poor people go back where they came from and life gets good again. Besides, they’ve been all uppity, I mean arrogant, since Obama was illegally elected.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/18/2011 - 11:45 am.

    We have never known too much about what goes on inside the Republicans caucuses. They are very secretive. On literally no information at all, I have assumed that the GOP leadership secured support for their budget within the caucus in exchange for a promise that there would be no further concessions on spending issues, a promise they have now broken.

    I was surprised by the early optimism that the budget legislation could be passed quickly. It does after all represent a 1.4 billion dollars in additional spending over and above the “not a penny more” 34 billion dollar Republican budget proposal. And many in the Republican caucuses had a hard time accepting even the 34 billion dollar figure. Many of them felt that state spending should be limited to 30 billion dollars, the amount of revenue the state took in during the last biennium. In addition, in the area of education funding, if you look inside the bills themselves, the removal of policy issues, will have the effect of reducing the amount of state aid many Republicans were expecting to receive for the districts at the expense of urban and inner ring suburb schools.

    A lot of really painful arm twisting is going on right now, I am just not sure whose arms are being twisted, and just who is doing the twisting.

  5. Submitted by Alec Timmerman on 07/18/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    It has been well publicized that Dayton “caved” to Republican demands already. Good luck spinning a GOP no vote when the other side caved.

  6. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 07/18/2011 - 01:06 pm.

    Keep cool Dayton, but turn up the heat:

    Why not unplug the air-conditioning and “Close’ will become ‘closure’ a bit sooner?

    I know Dayton could stand the heat -he’s done well so far – but ‘sweat equity’ could take on a whole new meaning for the Repubs…waltz that one by Matilda, whomever…

    Funny thing, words like concern, compassion; or that battered, but more definitive word, ‘Justice’ appear to mean nothing to the Repub crowd…that is,recognizing the needs of all Minnesotans on an equal basis rather than honoring the few over the many.

    Yup, turn off the air-conditioning Dayton and let them sweat it out…okay by this Minnesotan, yes mam, sir etc…we are waiting…

  7. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 07/18/2011 - 01:21 pm.

    I think there are hints as to why an agreement is hard to reach at the website for the Center of Media and Democracy, at their new site http://www.alecexposed.org on the wide influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and in articles by John Nichols and Wendell Potter at The Nation and http://www.commondreams.org.

    ALEC – a “nonpartisan” body – has written some 800 pieces of boilerplace legislation that they entrust to members of the legislatures of every state for passage. We have 10-15 identified ALEC members in the legislature, but there are probably more, and we’ve seen them introduce ALEC bills one after another.

    We would already have seen one big ALEC goal pass into law — the death of collective bargaining for public unions, plus reductions in pay, health care and retirement benements — if we had elected ALEC member Tom Emmer as governor.

  8. Submitted by Kristin Neises on 07/18/2011 - 01:22 pm.

    to #3, Bill: That’s too funny! My thoughts exactly. I feel like the Republicans would like to snap their fingers or twitch their noses so all the poor, stupid, needy people would just go away, never to return! And because I predominantly vote Democrat, I’m considered lazy, stupid, jobless, and expendible. I tell ya, no one, and that includes the super-rich in MN, the top 2%, is going away any too soon. I just see the poor getting poorer, the “dumb” possibly not ever having a chance to get smart, and the needy crying out even louder for help. I am so thankful I am healthy, able to work (very hard, I might add), and able to pay my share of taxes to help take care of those who can’t or don’t speak up, esp. the disabled, in addition to having a wonderful State to call home. Thanks to my Creator.

  9. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 07/18/2011 - 04:20 pm.

    Bernice
    Who are the ALEC members? And which among them is up for re-election in 2012?

  10. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/18/2011 - 09:28 pm.

    I’ve got the solution!

    Why not set up racinos at a new Vikings stadium, and what the heck – on the theory that if you’re gonna hang for a lamb, you might as well steal a sheep – let’s get a whorehouse going at the new stadium, too!

    Tax the Vikings, tax the racino, tax the johns, tax the whores, too!

    Whoops! I always forget “not a penny more”, so let me re-phrase that…

    – assess caught-red-handed-in-the-public-coffer “fees” to the Vikings,
    – the racinos, of course, will have to pay galloping “fees”,
    – the johns can pay zipper “fees”,
    – and the whores can pay a getting-off-your-feet “fee”!

    Now this is a plan the Republicans can support wholeheartedly – not only does it tax (Whoops, dang it, there I go again!) that is, I mean, assess “fees” for things that involve some kind of sinful conduct or other, but they’ve bought off on this whole “fee” logic in the past. They might have even signed a pledge to never stand in the way of a “fee”, for all I know.

    Another advantage is that while a legislator may dislike one of these “fees”, he might like another. For example, Senator so-and-so doesn’t want the Vikings to pay any “fees”, but he likes the idea of setting up a state-run whorehouse. He may well vote for it – but only after much prayer and soul-searching, of course.

  11. Submitted by Lynn Wehrman on 07/19/2011 - 07:03 am.

    ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’

    What kind of world do we want to live in? What kind of state will we be left with after this?

    Mankind is our business, so let’s get busy and stand up to these people–perhaps by contemplating their removal. We have a responsibility to act for those who cannot defend themselves.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 07/19/2011 - 07:14 am.

    Steve, the reason republicans prefer fees to pay for government is because fees are a voluntary tax. You can avoid paying taxes by simply avoiding going to the Vikings game, gambling at the racinos, or patronizing the whore houses, to use your examples.

    Given the exorbitant size and cost of government that you people insist on, far better to pay for it voluntarily than by coercion as you would have it with a confiscatory tax on a man’s labor. Then again, I guess labor is an optional activity in the liberal community, while the aforementioned not so much.

  13. Submitted by Tony George on 07/19/2011 - 07:46 am.

    Perhaps in the next election Minnesotans will have the good sense to vote for legislators who actually want to do good for Minnesota instead of blindly follow lock-step two extreme Right-Wing brothers from Kansas who are out to destroy the Minnesota economy to push their extreme agenda.

  14. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/19/2011 - 07:49 am.

    From the Majority GOP party that brought you : “Not one penny more” and who can forget that golden oldy, “Living within our means”.

    Comes; Deferring and delaying payments as well as borrowing from school districts and leveraging the tobacco fund.

    It’s been 38 yrs since the GOP controlled both houses in MN and this is the best they can do?

  15. Submitted by Dean Ryan on 07/19/2011 - 08:32 am.

    This whole push and shove debate really needs to come to a grown up conclusion soon. The Republicans are dancing to a tune played by Grover Nordquist and others who intend to benefit themselves. What a shame when Republican leaders no longer care about what the people want done, instead huddle waiting for special interest groups to pull their strings. This is defiantly the last days of the GOP as a party that can be trusted to carry out the peoples wishes. It’s obvious they have just to many campaign contributors and special interest groups to answer to.

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