By Mike Kaszuba
On the 12th day of Minnesota's state government shutdown, Gov. Mark Dayton brought his message to St. Cloud, using a largely friendly audience and focusing on special education to illustrate why he is holding firm against Republican legislators.
Dayton spoke before hundreds Tuesday at a local high school, where a mock election among students last November gave the DFL governor a victory but only 32.5 percent of the vote. The governor answered questions as a host of Republican legislators -- including one who invited him to move the stalled budget talks to St. Cloud -- listened and later challenged Dayton on his proposals.
"This is a reminder of what's at stake," said Dayton, following a more than one hour forum on the rising pressures on special education in public schools. School officials said special education funding in St. Cloud's school district was $26 million -- the same amount it was seven years ago, even though the number of students needing the services was steadily increasing.
But Republican legislators, who were at times put on the defensive during the morning debate, again insisted afterward that their budget proposals would increase state spending by six percent. "I don't believe we need more revenue," said Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud. "We have the most revenue we've ever had."
The Republicans, however, were chastised by several members in the audience, some of whom wore t-shirts supporting Dayton and public employee unions. "Where's your conscience? It's about us who sent you there," said Dr. Anthony Akubue, a professor of environmental and technologial studies at St. Cloud State University, who drew some of the biggest applause.
He said that legislators who maintained that certain revenue producing proposals should not be considered "have lost your privilege to independent thinking."
Dayton said afterward he was waiting for Republican legislative leaders to submit their latest budget proposal, and dismissed an early Tuesday request from Republicans that Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers join him as he began a tour of Minnesota to highlight his budget stance.