An orderly and on-time conclusion to the legislative session was already starting to look iffy last week as Republican lawmakers and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton remained far apart as they try to negotiate a two-year, $46 billion budget just a week before lawmakers are supposed to go home for the year.
Republicans want a bigger tax cut than Dayton, who wants more money for education and health and human services. That’s just the beginning of the differences.
The current GOP budget bills, five of which Dayton vetoed on Friday, are packed with controversial policy provisions on regulatory issues that could dilute the authority of the executive branch. It’s a sticking point for any governor who doesn’t want to leave the office weaker than how he found it.
And that was all before the Senate ground to a halt last week as Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, attended to her ailing father. With a one-seat majority, Republicans cannot move any bills if one of their members is absent.
Plus, the fishing opener was this weekend, so certainly no work could be done.
The question arises: Who is better positioned to ride out a long budget stalemate, or even a government shutdown, if they can’t agree on a budget by June 30?
Legislative bodies often fare poorly in these confrontations. The governor is usually more well known and has a bigger megaphone.
Dayton relented during the 2011 government shutdown. But Republicans lost the 2012 election badly anyway, as both sides remember.
But Republicans believe they can outmaneuver Dayton, who has frequently been stymied during the current period of divided government that started in early 2015.
A DFL lawmaker told me he fears Republicans are better positioned as June 30 nears. The reason: One of Dayton’s core beliefs is good government. The idea is he can’t stomach a government shutdown that would threaten important state services. If the shutdown clock is his foe rather than friend, the thinking goes, he would be more likely to make big concessions.
But Dayton, who is not running for re-election, can be unpredictable. Unlike the Legislature, he is coming off a Star Tribune poll in which Minnesotans gave him the highest approval rating of his two terms. So, maybe he’s ready to dig in and fight in what promises to be one of the final big political battles of his career.