The deal that Gov. Mark Dayton presented to Republican leadership today likely was framed Tuesday at a coffee shop in St. Cloud.
At that time, the governor, with no staffers present, sat down, one on one, with Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, to “get a lay of the land.”
Howes, who defines himself as “an old-fashioned Republican,” had been invited by the governor to this meeting. (Nonethess, it was Howes who paid for the grilled cheese sandwich, “because the governor was only carrying a credit card. … besides, I told him that Republicans tip better.”)
The deal that Dayton offered Republicans this morning likely will end the shutdown, Howes said.
“This [the Dayton offer] is very close — if not a done deal,” he said.
Howes admitted that there will be hardliners on both the Republican and DFL sides of the aisle who may have a tough time with parts of the deal.
“In the end, it will have to be bipartisan,” Howes said. “They [DFLers] would look ridiculous if they didn’t help out.”
One of the key elements of the proposal is that Republicans drop their demand that the state workforce be cut by 15 percent.
Howes said he has spoken with the creator of that 15 percent reduction idea, Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina.
“He’s assured me that he’s ready to work in ways that the governor can accept,” he said.
Howes said he believes that Downey is willing to slash that workforce reduction idea in half — and make it palatable in other ways to the governor.
“There is such a thing as compromise,” Howes said. “We have to be adults.”
Howes hasn’t been speaking only with Republican legislators. He said that he was in a conversation with Sen. Tom Bakk, the minority leader, at the time Dayton was releasing his offer.
“Sen. Bakk agrees with me that this is going to be tougher [to pass] in the Senate than it is in the House,” Howes said.
In his meeting with the governor, Howes made it clear that he respected — though disagreed — with the governor’s position that a fourth-tier income tax was needed to bridge the budget gap.
Howes explained to the governor that he had campaigned on a promise not to raise income taxes.
But, he said, he’s never opposed new revenue, nor has he opposed new taxes in general.
“I never said anything about tax on cigarettes or anything else,” Howes said of his pledge.
He also said that he told the governor that back in January he had figured the two sides would ultimately settle at about $35.2 billion.
“I wrote that number down and put it in my desk drawer,” Howes said.
Then, Howes spoke of an area in which he and the governor agree: The importance of a bonding bill.
Howes, who chairs the House Capital Investment Committee, said that he recently presented House Speaker Kurt Zellers with a bonding bill that would be “less than $600 million.” (Dayton, in his most recent offer to Republicans, says he must get Republicans to agree on a $500 million bonding bill.)
Laughing, Howes said the bonding bill would place all projects in Walker.
He was quick to add that he was joking; that the bonding bill would create projects — and presumably construction work — across the state.
The first big benefactors would be a number of projects on MnSCU campuses, at colleges across the state. Additionally, his bonding bill would at least partially support a new baseball park in downtown St. Paul. That park would become home to the minor-league Saints but be used as a venue for a wide variety of other events as well.
At this point, Howes seems as unexcited about raising revenue through the shifts and tobacco bond as Dayton is. He’d especially like to see the size of the shift reduced.
In his letter [PDF] to Republican leaders, Dayton said he would be supportive of “alternative sources of revenue,” presumably including racinos at the two metro area racetracks.
Ultimately, though, Howes is convinced that the Dayton letter is the framework that will end the shutdown.
He also hopes it becomes a national model for dealing with the situation in D.C.
“If we get this done, I hope Washington takes a close look,” Howes said. “Compromise is the adult thing to do.”
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.