By BAIRD HELGESON, RACHEL E. STASSEN-BERGER AND ERIC ROPER
Legislators ended their five-month legislative session at midnight Monday, an otherwise quiet end to a session that leaves much unfinished business.
The Republican-controlled Legislature failed to reach a budget agreement with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, setting the stage for a special session.
“We came here in January, determined to balance the state’s budget deficit by living within our means and without raising taxes,” Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said in a statement. “We came here to put a stop to the out-of-control government spending that is crippling our economy.”
The final minutes ticked away as hundreds of state workers chanted, “We want to work,” as they braced for a possible government shutdown.
Democrats said the most notable thing the GOP accomplished was approving a measure to allow voters to consider a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
“We enshrined discrimination into the constitution,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “That was the one thing that’s been accomplished this session.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk also drew note of the marriage amendment. But in his lengthy concluding Senate speech he predicted it will fail when it appears on the 2012 Election Day ballot next year.
Gov. Mark Dayton had harsh words for lawmakers as they adjourned their regular session.
“Five months ago, we began this legislative session with clear goals: solve our budget deficit while getting Minnesota working again. Tonight, the Legislature adjourns having accomplished neither,” Dayton said. “One week ago, I offered a fair and balanced compromise: to meet half-way between our two budget proposals. The Legislature refused to compromise, or even to budge one dollar from their position.”
The final day of session was not marked by the usual crush of meetings and negotiations between leaders and the governor. Philosophically, the two sides remained deeply divided to the very end, making no real progress in the final days over how best to beat down the state’s $5 billion projected shortfall.
Around 9 p.m., Republican leaders held a meeting outside the governor’s office, saying their last, best budget offer was on his desk. If he signs the bills, the session ends with a balanced budget. But Dayton, who wants to raise taxes, has said he would “reject” their proposal to balance the budget solely through cuts.
A blizzard of vetoes could begin Tuesday and continue through the rest of the week, which means only a special session would force a deal.
“The governor has a balanced budget on his desk, and we are calling on the governor to sign the bills,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo. “There are schools and local governments waiting for these decisions.”
As Koch and other Republican leaders spoke, dozens of state workers protesting the GOP budget crowded in on the news conference. Suddenly, people holding signs with Dayton’s mantra, “Tax the Rich” were sprinkled among Republican leaders.
For weeks, Koch and Republican leaders held similar news conferences after meetings with the governor.
But at 9 p.m., doors to the governor’s office were locked.
Bob Hume, a Dayton spokesman, said the governor was home waiting by the phone for GOP leaders seeking a last-minute deal.
Republicans said it was up to the governor to call them.
The session marched on with no breakthrough.
Senators spent their last hour with speeches from Republican and DFL leaders.
Koch signed off by reading a text message from her daughter quoting Winston Churchill: “Good night, then. Sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come, and brightly will shine on the brave and the true. Good night, brave and true.”
In her concluding remarks, Koch thanked staff and the DFL senators, with a special note for DFL Sen. Linda Scheid, who is ailing.
She also thanked Gov. Mark Dayton and said “we like working with you.”
She’ll have that opportunity soon. Koch said she expects that they will resume negotiating the budget later this week.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the Senate got waylaid by social issues and lost the budget focus they promised.
“Both bodies got bogged down on photo identification and abortion and gay marriage,” he said. “And the budget almost seemed like it had become secondary, just from the cheap seats where I’m watching from.”
House members spend their final hours debating Legacy funding, voter-approved money that goes to outdoors, clean water initiatives, cultural and art programs.
In the end, the House did not vote on the measure.
The Legislature recessed until noon, Jan. 24.