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Gov. Mark Dayton

Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

Time apart hasn’t lessened the rigid divide

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • July 7, 2011 - 6:41 AM

The ideological divide over spending and taxes that led to Minnesota's government shutdown is lined with rock-ribbed partisans, and they don't appear to be letting up.

After budget talks collapsed last week, Republican leaders said that they had offered new revenue and were "close" to an agreement with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton on the budget. But away from the cameras, many of their own members said they still could not support a budget larger than the $34 billion one Dayton vetoed.

"As long as he's not going over 34, I'm open to suggestions," said Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, one of many freshmen who have taken a hard line against more spending.

Meanwhile, Dayton and DFL lawmakers have assailed the consequences of a $34 billion budget, and the governor would not, in the end, abandon his pledge to raise taxes on the wealthy -- a nonstarter for Republicans.

He and DFL legislators have said that, with costs of government services projected to rise dramatically, more revenue is needed to avoid draconian service cuts. Republicans say that the state must live within its means and cannot keep spending more.

If a solution to the high-stakes impasse emerges this week, when both sides are expected to return to negotiations, the solution may have to come from the moderates in both caucuses, if leaders can pull them together.

"I think that the Republican right and the Democratic left will not vote for the final budget package," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. "The shutdown will push people to the middle. We'll see how long it takes."

Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, who will not support a budget over $34 billion, is not as convinced. "It's a deadlock," Parry said. "And I'm telling you, the majority party in the Senate, we're strong. And we're going to stay strong."

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said those who refuse to spend more than $34 billion have public opinion on their side. Republicans have repeatedly cited a recent KSTP SurveyUSA poll showing that a majority of people prefer reduced spending. In that poll, released the third week in June, 8 percent said spending should increase, 60 percent that it should decrease and 27 percent that it should stay the same. Most of those who said it should decrease recommended a 4 to 9 percent dip. (A Minnesota Poll conducted in early May found that a majority of Minnesotans -- 63 percent -- favored a blend of higher taxes and service reductions to tackle the deficit. That pool was based on 565 land line and 241 cellphone interviews.)

"This is not some right-wing cabal," Thompson said of the GOP drive for spending cuts. He added: "I think it is going to be up to the governor to understand that people are not OK with doing business the old way."

On the other side, liberal Democrats like Sen. John Marty could have trouble supporting even a $35 billion budget. He said the cuts would likely be "way too brutal" and urged Dayton to "hang tough."

"It seems to me that he could have avoided a shutdown under one condition: unconditional surrender," said Marty, DFL-Roseville.

Republican Rep. Kurt Daudt, who could support a $35 billion budget, said a final plan will probably need the support of at least 30 percent of the Democrats.

"We have members that don't want to be at $34 billion. They want to be at $32 billion," said Daudt, R-Crown. "And I certainly respect that."

Parry, a committee chairman who has ramped up his criticism of the governor since Thursday night, appears to have lost hope.

The shutdown can be resolved, he said, "the day the governor resigns and [lieutenant governor] Yvonne Prettner Solon, with some common sense, comes to the governor's office."

Rachel E. Stassen-Berger contributed to this report.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper

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