A few hours before Gov. Mark Dayton planned to sit down with the Republican caucuses that control both chambers of the Legislature, the party's leaders dumped a bucketful of cold water Thursday on expectations that the talks could produce anything resembling a breakthrough on the state's budget meltdown.
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, spent an hour on Minnesota Public Radio defending their strategy to wipe out the state's $5 billion budget hole by slashing spending, as opposed to raising taxes, as Dayton has proposed.
Asked flatly if her Senate colleagues would accept Dayton's combination of spending cuts and an income tax increase on the state's wealthiest residents, Koch said, "I think it is unlikely, but I think it's important that we keep the dialogue open and that we keep talking and that the governor has the opportunity to give his side as well as the caucus to give their side."
She added: "it's pretty close to no, but we want to give the governor the chance to speak."
For his part, Zellers said the budget showdown has "never been about a fight between us and him. ... We've already had what a lot of our folks think is a compromise," referring to Dayton's move to halve his tax-increase proposal.
Could Dayton say anything to move members of the House to his position? Zellers: "Right now, I'm not sure that he could."
The closed-door meeting is scheduled to be held at 1:15 p.m. Dayton plans to meet with reporters afterward. Fully expect the Republicans to hold a rebuttal after that.
Meanwhile, Koch and Zellers continued to tamp down any expectations that a Vikings stadium bill will be able to get traction at a time when the budget is the all-consuming focus of the final days of the legislative session.
"A Vikings stadium for me isn't anything we're going to talk about until we get the budget balanced," Zellers said. "We're focused on the budget." That doesn't necessarily mean a bill will slip into next year's session, he said, adding, "lots of stuff can happen" in the final days. "I'm not saying it's a dead issue, 100 percent -- it's only Thursday."
Koch: "We need to agree on a budget before anything else. That is our primary purpose for being here."