Confusion and recriminations after canceled meetings. Digging in over partisan differences. Fraying nerves about the dwindling clock. Minnesota's legislative session must be less than a week from wrapping up.
Gov. Mark Dayton and top DFL and GOP legislative leaders continued private meetings Tuesday on the two-year state budget, trying to bridge broad disagreements over education spending, tax cuts, transportation and health programs. In the absence of visible progress, both sides insisted it was the other guy who needs to move toward the middle.
"In negotiations, nobody gets everything that they want, and that's the realization that we need Democrats to come to," said House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. He said DFL negotiators have refused to give up on a gas tax increase to fund transportation projects, despite GOP assertions that it could not pass the House.
DFLers, meanwhile, drilled in on the Republican proposal to end MinnesotaCare, a public health insurance program with about 90,000 participants. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said budget talks had stalled because the GOP would not surrender that provision.
"That's a nonstarter," Bakk said.
The time available to work all this out is shrinking quickly. To avoid a special session, lawmakers must pass a complete two-year budget by midnight on Monday. A special session almost certainly would ratchet up partisan tensions and raise fears of another state government shutdown. DFL-GOP impasses over the state budget led to partial shutdowns in 2005 and again in 2011.
Dayton noted in a Star Tribune interview over the weekend that in the absence of a new budget, layoff notices would be issued to state employees on June 1. A shutdown would commence on July 1 if a new, two-year state budget is not in place by that time.
Meanwhile, with the restoration of the aging Capitol underway, administration officials testified to a legislative panel on Tuesday that moving vans are scheduled to show up at 12:01 a.m. on May 19.
Bakk signaled Tuesday that he's already given some thought to a special session scenario, mentioning in an interview that he'd seen polling data indicating that Republicans would bear a greater share of the shutdown blame. "It's not good for the institution, and I would certainly rather that it not happen," he said. "There's no reason this can't get done."
With tempers closer to the surface, misunderstandings have taken on added weight.
After several hours of talks on Monday night at the governor's mansion, negotiators broke for dinner but apparently with different ideas about whether they were reconvening later in the evening. Daudt and other Republicans expected to resume. DFLers had decided to stop. By Tuesday morning, GOP leaders were complaining bitterly that DFLers seemed to be trying to make them sweat the clock. "It's unbelievable," said House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. "It seems to be a pattern. It's not acceptable."
Linden Zakula, a spokesman for Dayton, retorted that Republicans were not acting in good faith either, charging that the GOP was using what he characterized as phony savings in its spending plans for health and human services programs. "Negotiating means that we're all using real numbers to negotiate off of," said Zakula.
Legislative leaders and the governor, along with a half-dozen cabinet secretaries, concluded negotiations at 10:45 p.m. Tuesday, and offered no comment to reporters. Talks are set to resume Wednesday morning.
Staff writer J. Patrick Coolican contributed to this report.