‘No agreements,’ ‘no concessions’ and no progress on a budget deal

MinnPost file photo by Corey Anderson
Monday culminated with in a three-hour meeting at the governor’s residence that ended abruptly — and without any progress.

If there are Seven Stages of a Budget Deal, we might be in the public-falling-out phase; whatever good will was generated between Minnesota’s top political leaders on a fishing boat over the weekend hasn’t translated into movement on a deal to bridge vast divides on the state’s budget.

Gov. Mark Dayton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, returning to St. Paul from a joint fishing outing on Lake Vermillion Saturday, spent all day Monday in meetings trying to work out a deal to end the 2015 session by May 18, the deadline for adjournment. They shuttled back and forth between the state Capitol and the governor’s residence, the day culminating with a three-hour meeting at the residence that ended abruptly — and without any progress.

In that final meeting of the day, negotiators had “candid” discussions about proposed Republican funding cuts for health and human services, according to Dayton spokesman Linden Zakula. Republicans’ proposal to eliminate MinnesotaCare, a subsidized health care program for low-income Minnesotans, has been the biggest budgetary sticking point between the two parties in the last several days, but “no agreements” and “no concessions” were reached Monday evening, he said. 

‘They are not serious about working out the differences’

But that’s not the only major issue causing an impasse: Negotiators are stuck on what to do with a Republican-backed package of $2 billion in tax cuts and a DFL proposal to increase the state’s gas tax to pay for a decade worth of transportation improvements. After meetings broke Monday evening, Daudt said Democrats were unwilling to move on most major budget items, especially their calls for new revenue for transportation. 

“We are no further right now than we were at the beginning of the day,” Daudt said. “They are just not serious about working out the differences. They seem so set on the gas tax. When we talked about a gas tax, they made it seem like that’s the only solution to any problem.” 

Daudt said a gas tax increase doesn’t have 68 votes in the House — the required number of votes for any bill to pass — and the proposal has been off the table for “at least two months.” “A gas tax isn’t passing today, tomorrow, next week or on July 15th,” Daudt said. “The public doesn’t support it, and it’s bad public policy.”

But Bakk says Republicans’ tax cuts and transportation funding are inextricably linked. Unlike the state budget, which lawmakers must balance by law before the start of the next fiscal year, the state’s transportation and tax systems will continue to operate as usual if nothing gets done this session. Earlier in the day, Bakk seemed increasingly frustrated that Republicans had refused to support Democrats’ transportation plan while still calling for major tax cuts.

“I’m willing to recognize the fact that we are not going to do a transportation bill, and they just need to recognize that the Senate’s not going to do a tax bill. I don’t want that to be the outcome, but the state badly needs an investment in our public infrastructure. Our roads and bridges are falling apart,” he said. “If they decide that they just can’t find a way to do that, I guess we’ll just have to wait for that until next year. I’m willing to do that, but they can’t expect that I’m going to give up on my number one priority and they still continue to get theirs, and it appears that theirs is a tax bill.”

Dayton reiterated that sentiment, following an afternoon meeting between DFL leaders at the residence. “If they really want a tax bill, they are going to have to go with what the Senate and I have proposed — along those lines — for transportation,” Dayton said. “They are not going to have it all their way, that’s for sure.”

Agreement on per-pupil spending

The governor and Senate Democrats did come to one agreement Monday afternoon: Both now want a 2 percent increase in the per-pupil education funding formula each of the next two years. That’s slightly higher than Dayton was calling for originally, and in addition to his push for some kind of deal on prekindergarten education this session, which he continues to call his “number one priority.”

The meetings came to a confusing end Monday night. Legislative leaders left the residence around 7:30 p.m. for dinner with the intention of coming back at 9 p.m. to continue talks. But while they were away, Daudt said he got word from the governor’s staff that the meetings would not continue until Dayton’s Education Commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, could join, which wouldn’t happen until Tuesday. Daudt said he was frustrated that the three leaders weren’t negotiating into the evening, with only one week to go before adjournment. But he and Dayton spoke during a late-night phone call to clear up the confusion and determined that talks would pick up Tuesday morning and afternoon.

Dayton casually proposed a scenario where each side gets its top priority in a final deal: He gets prekindergarten education, senators get a transportation bill and Republicans “could get a pretty good tax bill” and “we work the rest of it out,” he said.

“So far we haven’t seen that much sign of cooperation, but it’s only Monday,” Dayton said. “We got along fine when we were fishing.”

Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 05/12/2015 - 09:27 am.

    Head-banging

    I especially like the phrase, “…negotiators had ‘candid’ discussions.”

    No one in the triumvirate has asked me, but if they did, I’d have to add that a gas tax increase, contrary to Mr. Daudt’s assertion, would be excellent public policy. We have such a short memory as a society that’s sometimes jaw-dropping. Gas drops below $3 a gallon, and in the morning ‘Strib, car dealers joyfully report a bump in sales of their biggest sedans and SUVs, as if oil prices will perpetually be this low. Who needs public transit when I can drive my 14 mpg pickup to work every day? In the meantime, I guess we can wait for another bridge collapse or two, with accompanying deaths and injuries, before the necessary attention is paid to roads and bridges that already exist.

    Popularity certainly plays a role, and rightfully so, but it shouldn’t be the primary driver of public policy.

    • Submitted by lee wick on 05/12/2015 - 10:57 am.

      It’s all the GOP.

      The story said the THREE could not agree. This isn’t all on the GOP.

      • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/13/2015 - 01:33 am.

        What?

        If you don’t mind me asking, what does what you said have to do with what Ray said?

        What “all” that Ray mentioned “isn’t on the GOP”?

        His saying a gas tax increase would be good public policy, as opposed to what Kurt Daubt said? $3.00 per gallon gas and the increase in pickup and SUV sales and people having amnesia? Waiting for the next bridge collapse and the deaths and injuries that go with that kind of thing? The popularity contest that shouldn’t be?

        Or, when you said, “the THREE could not agree,” did you mean that one of them couldn’t, didn’t, or wouldn’t, agree with the other two because they’re locked into a “political position” they can’t back away from, or compromise on, without “disappointing their base,” or what?

        Sorry, but I don’t quite get whatever it was you were trying to say. Please elaborate.

        Thanks.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/12/2015 - 09:29 am.

    The gas tax

    “When we talked about a gas tax, they made it seem like that’s the only solution to any problem.”

    See, that’s the thing. Do you really believe that a new gas tax will be used to pay for a decade worth of transportation improvements? Me neither. Within that decade, when everyone’s forgotten about this session, the democrats will be back claiming they need more new taxes to pay for more transportation spending.

    The republicans may be rural by nature but they didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

    • Submitted by lee wick on 05/12/2015 - 11:00 am.

      DFL had chance to do this before.

      The DFL had total control for two sessions and didn’t do anything except give Mayo/Rochester big bucks. You are right, they don’t seem to spend all the money where needed but they won’t mention the truth.

      • Submitted by Tim McCarthy on 05/12/2015 - 11:31 am.

        The truth is

        Your post makes no sense.
        “They didn’t do anything…” Are you suggesting that no road construction occurred in that time?
        “They don’t seem to spend all the money where needed” Which specific project didn’t get done? Disagreement over which freeway gets fixed is not hiding anything.
        If you believe that gas tax money is being diverted, just say that.

      • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/12/2015 - 12:05 pm.

        That’s TRULY Amazing

        How selective is the memory of some folk!

        If you think that’s ALL the DFL did,…

        I happen to have title to a famous bridge in New York that I could sell you,…

        REAL cheap.

        Buying it would be a VERY freedom-loving, patriotic, conservative, take-back-our country, Tea Party thing to do!

        Meanwhile, I seem to remember the erasure of a deficit of more than a billion dollars in there somewhere,…

        a deficit which the current budget plans of our Republican friends would rapidly RE-create,…

        to the severe detriment of everyone but their wealthy campaign benefactors.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/13/2015 - 12:00 pm.

        T2

        They had other top priorities… Funding the Vikings stadium, building an office building, passing gay marriage, passing antibullying laws, banning triclosan, forcing cell phone shutoff features, passing HUGE bonding, etc. Apparently Transportation wasn’t very important during the past 2 years…

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/12/2015 - 12:08 pm.

      Yes Tester

      They did fall off the turnip truck many years ago. Outstate wants many things except to pay for those things.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 05/13/2015 - 01:54 am.

      You bet…

      Don’t worry. No need for you or anyone else that uses the roads to pay for their upkeep and improvement… We can just take the money from the Health and Human Services budget by dismantling MinnesotaCare (about $500 million per year, I think) because you and most other Minnesotans don’t need that now. And, if you all stay lucky, or are covered by the VA, you never will.

      Have a nice smooth cruise to your next meeting or R & R destination.

      It’s all good.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/13/2015 - 01:06 pm.

        ACA and Medicare Expansion

        I am still puzzled that we need more than ACA and the Medicare Expansion… I thought that was why the Democrats passed them.

  3. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 05/12/2015 - 11:57 am.

    Common sense would say…

    1. The long term needs for transportation infrastructure spending far exceed this year’s surplus.
    2. However, this year’s surplus could fill the immediate transportation infrastructure spending need.
    3. Call transportation infrastructure spending our #1 priority and use the majority of the surplus for it.
    4. Future surpluses are unknown; so, install a gas tax circuit breaker to make up any needed diff.
    5. Future legislatures have the option of bonding transportation projects or falling back on the gas tax
    6. Cutting heath and human services in order to make an inheritance tax cut for the.1% is futile.
    7. As a tax cut compromise, pick removing state income tax on SS earnings.

    Common sense would have them back in the boat by next Saturday.

    • Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/12/2015 - 03:55 pm.

      Our Republican Friends

      would not, and WILL not agree to a single item on your list.

      They’ll shut down the government if they don’t get EXACTLY what they’ve already passed,…

      their only acceptable idea of “compromise” being the Gov. Dayton and the DFL come ALL THE WAY to the Republican side,…

      and the citizens of the State of Minnesota will respond EXACTLY the way they did last time the Republicans shut down the government,…

      by electing a DFL-dominated legislature, again.

      And the Republicans will forever whine that the only thing wrong with their ideas is that they NEVER get to try them,…

      and will remain stubbornly blind to what’s happening in Kansas and Wisconsin where they are being implemented and working MASSIVE destruction.

  4. Submitted by Michael Hess on 05/12/2015 - 12:48 pm.

    slight increase?

    Thought Dayton wanted a 1% increase. Why is doubling that called a ‘slight’ increase?

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/13/2015 - 10:27 am.

    It IS on the republicans

    The house has spent the entire session passing bills that will never become law, everything from gun silencers to healthcare repeals. They’re budget “plan” is to dismantle (once again, apparently some people never learn or get tired of being wrong) a stable revenue stream and return to budget deficits and crises. Instead of delivering more balanced service (as promised) to their rural “base” they’ve designed a plan to cut services for everyone. And then they show up with no leverage and think the Governor and the Senate will simply concede without compromise. Typical. This is EXACTLY what we’ve come to expect from these reactionary ideologues.

    Dayton HAS offered some compromises but republican’s literally don’t know what a compromise is. So the question that emerged when republicans took the house is now being answered… can they govern like mature adults or will they shut the government down… again? They literally can’t help themselves.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 05/13/2015 - 04:22 pm.

      Oh Come Now

      Dayton spent the whole session pushing for buffer strips, universal pre-K, gas taxes, huge bonding, etc that would never become laws. What is the difference?

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