Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton talked about the shutdown of the state government in an interview in his office the State Capitol in St. Paul on Friday, July 1, 2011, the first day of a governmental shutdown.
Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune
Dayton's moment to decide
- Article by: RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER
- Star Tribune
- July 4, 2011 - 10:20 AM
With Minnesota's government on the brink of shutting down, Gov. Mark Dayton emerged from long, tough budget talks late Thursday night to break the unwelcome news to an anxious state.
As Dayton spoke, in a sign of just how deep the rancor at the Capitol now runs, some of the GOP lawmakers who gathered inside the stately reception room jeered his words.
He later called Thursday "one of the worst days of my life.''
Of the nation's 50 governors, none faces a tougher dilemma than Dayton, who presides over the only state to have shut down over the inability of its leaders to strike a budget deal.
As Minnesota muddles through the holiday weekend with empty state parks, idled road construction work, and more than 20,000 state workers on indefinite layoff, Dayton must decide whether to stick to his principles against determined opponents, or seek a fresh, if painful, compromise.
The issues dividing the two sides run far deeper than the mechanics of bridging a $5 billion budget deficit. They are, at bottom, competing visions for how Minnesota should work.
Dayton's last offer Thursday would have raised income taxes on the state's 7,700 millionaires, a price the governor considers acceptable for tempering the major budget cuts affecting the state. The $700 million generated by the increase, along with nearly $2 billion in unspecified cuts and other measures, would have been used to close the projected deficit.
But Republicans say they want no part of any tax increases, which they consider deadly for job creation and the recruitment of capital to the state. They see Dayton's renewed insistence on the issue as a key element in the impasse.
"I tell you, a number of members felt like they were slapped," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
'Has to happen'
A veteran politician and former U.S. senator, Dayton rode to a razor-thin victory last November after telling Minnesotans for months that he intended to solve the state's budget problems in part by raising taxes on the wealthy. To get there, he had to overcome the skepticism of many Democrats who doubted both the message and the messenger. Dayton was not the first choice of his party, and he skipped its endorsing convention, winning the nomination instead in the primary election.
Now, just six months into the job, he must rely on political minorities in the House and Senate to stand with him as he heads into a shutdown that, if it goes longer than a week, will become the longest in U.S. history.
"We couldn't find the solution that tipped the scales," Dayton said Friday of the budget talks that broke down in large part over his tax-the-rich stand.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said she has no personal animosity toward Dayton but is disappointed that he resurrected a tax proposal that her caucus will not support.
Republicans' last offer would have raised more than $1 billion for the state through school payment delays and borrowing against future tobacco revenue.
Koch said the offer was "extremely painful" for Republicans to make because even though it would not have raised taxes, it would have forced the GOP to spend more money on state government than its leaders planned.
Dayton objected to the tobacco bonds and responded by offering the millionaire's tax increase. It was a non-starter for the GOP.
Koch said she hopes that on Tuesday the two sides will return to the bargaining table, sweep the bad feelings aside and build on the work they've already done.
Dayton "knows and I know and the speaker knows what has to happen," Koch said.
For Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, that means concessions by the governor.
"He's really broken any trust I had with him,'' Davids said, adding that the reception he's gotten in his home district since the start of the shutdown has only strengthened his resolve.
"I just got back from the Branding Iron restaurant, had their Friday cod and they're saying 'Hang in there. ... Don't you dare raise my taxes,'" said Davids, who chairs the House Taxes Committee.
Democrats say they, too, know what must happen: Republicans must leave what Dayton calls their "web of intransigence."
"I think they think Dayton's going to blink," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. But, he said, the governor, is "unwavering."
Dayton's allies say that during the budget mess and into the shutdown, he has had a clear picture to lead him.
"He's got a guiding vision saying here's what I think is right. ... How does this fit with what I think is right?" said Jim Schowalter, commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, who has been by Dayton's side during much of the private budget negotiations.
It's that vision that has kept his allies with him, even as they suffer under a shutdown.
"I'm proud of him," said Mike Hartel, a state transportation maintenance worker now without a paycheck. Despite the shutdown's toll on his life, Hartel said, he finds Dayton's stance "commendable."
DFL legislators say they also stand with the governor.
Initially, many supported former House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher in the governor's race. But Dayton slowly won over many DFL lawmakers after prevailing in last year's primary.
His backers include Bakk and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, both of whom ran for governor against Dayton last year.
They've made clear their members would be willing to vote for a tax increase. At Dayton's insistence, Bakk and Thissen joined him throughout most of the budget negotiation and the DFL has said the party has his back.
The 2012 calculus
Both sides are mindful of next year's elections. Republicans will be trying to hold their new majorities in the House and Senate; DFLers will be fighting to get them back. DFLers say they've taken the gamble that even in a shutdown, backing Dayton could help them regain the Legislature.
For his part, Dayton must weigh the risks of holding out for what he considers an acceptable agreement against the mounting pain of Minnesotans who count on government to help them every day.
After Thursday's shutdown announcement, Dayton and his staff went back to his office. The staffers praised his delivery and criticized the GOP members who chose to jeer.
"I was offended by it, but it seemed to roll off his back," said spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci.
Dayton is circumspect about what's to come. In an interview, he said he was sure the Republican budget he is holding the line against would "ravage and savage so many people's lives."
Asked if he was doing the right thing by leading the state in short-term pain, the governor replied: "I pray for that wisdom every morning and every night."
Staff writer Baird Helgeson contributed to this report. Rachel E. Stassen-Berger • Twitter: @rachelsb
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