Despite grueling days and longer nights, legislators left town early Tuesday without a budget that sets aside money for public schools or health care for low-income Minnesotans. There's no money for roads, rest stops or state parks. What seemed like a slam-dunk proposal for flood-control money remains undone.
All that and more must now await a special session this summer, as the Republican majority and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton ended an acrimonious five-month session with very little business done and a $5 billion projected shortfall mostly untouched.
There's no sign more time in St. Paul would spark a deal to avoid a bruising government shutdown. A long season of legislating only hardened and widened the deep, bitter divide between Dayton and the new legislative leadership.
"Here I am in the middle, and they haven't moved," Dayton said of Republican lawmakers.
Republicans leaders sent the governor nearly all their budget bills in the closing days of the session, saying they had done their job to balance the budget. But legislators left town with no time to negotiate another offer. Dayton has until Wednesday to sign or veto the bulk of the bills and has vowed to "reject" them without a global budget deal. Republican leaders plan to fly around the state Tuesday urging Dayton to sign their budget.
Dayton said he is unlikely to call a special session without a firm budget agreement, and that it would be a "catastrophic occurrence" if state government shuts down. His administration has largely put off public discussion on shutdown scenarios. That could change Tuesday, when all the lawmakers have left and with government funding set to run out June 30.
Republicans grew increasingly pessimistic Dayton would cave to their budget demands and started to describe a special session as needed "bonus time."
House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, acknowledged the public might not view the extra session as a good thing. "But considering where we are and what we've done this session, I think it would probably be all right," he said on Minnesota Public Radio.
Dayton and Republicans have not budged on a deep philosophical divide over balancing the budget. The governor proposed raising taxes on the richest 2 percent of Minnesotans to balance the budget. Republicans note they are spending more than last year's budget and existing state revenues should be ample.
Of the state's $39 billion estimated two-year budget, months of political bickering brought an accord on less than $100 million.
By night's end, Republicans were on track to end their first session in the majority with just a handful of signature accomplishments, including a bill to speed permitting and a measure that allows an alternative pathway to teacher licensure. In an early victory, the governor and the GOP struck a deal on the agriculture budget, a tiny fraction of the overall budget.
Throughout the session, Republican lawmakers trotted out an array of constitutional amendments to handcuff state spending, require super-majorities for tax increases, restrict voting to those with authorized identification and to constitutionally ban gay marriage. In the end, only the constitutional ban on gay marriage passed.
Dayton in recent days cut his tax proposal in half and offered to limit increases to $1.8 billion on the top 2 percent of earners, but Republicans refused to stray from their position.
Dayton expressed disbelief Republicans would rather cut services for the poor and elderly to protect the richest Minnesotans.
Republicans placed blame squarely on Dayton, with Deputy Sen. Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, saying he did not believe the governor would "take us to a shutdown or a special session just for a tax increase."
In a sign of Republican resolve, state party Chairman Tony Sutton sent a letter to journalists that equated compromise with defeat. Earlier, he told GOP activists "a compromise to the left is a compromise of good and evil."
As time ran out, Republicans proposed several "lights-on" proposals to keep government running in limited fashion beyond June. In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Dayton called the proposals "kind of a charade to look like they are not going to be responsible for what they are responsible for."
Special sessions tricky
Special sessions can be politically messy. Dayton will decide when to start, but GOP lawmakers get to decide when to end. Without bipartisan agreement on the agenda, the GOP could load it up with divisive proposals and pet projects left for dead during the regular session, such as a handful of failed proposals to expand gambling.
Political watchers from both sides said former Gov. Tim Pawlenty erred in 2005 when he called a special session the day after legislators adjourned.
Just after Pawlenty called them back, his former staffer Tom Hanson said Monday on Twitter, "I went to a meeting of House [Republican] Caucus and got yelled at for 2 hours."
House and Senate members became increasingly testy and dug in. The session imploded with no deal and an eight-day, partial government shutdown.
Special sessions are expensive, too. In 2009, legislative experts estimated it costs at least $40,000 a day in salaries and living stipends to bring legislators back to St. Paul.
Much more is at stake if they fail to cut a deal by the end of June. The state must pay out about $2.1 billion in July, which includes money for schools, state payroll and health and human services. All of that would be thrown into doubt during a prolonged government shutdown.
The swelling uncertainty weighed heavily on legislators Monday. With no sign of a deal or any frenzied last-minute negotiations, legislators took out frustrations by ripping one another and dishing to journalists.
Republicans' "unwillingness to compromise was astounding," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. "Their principles are so burned into their soul that it's almost like a religion or a cult. And you can't compromise on that."
Minutes later, two freshmen Republicans hustled down to the press corps with a hasty response.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, called Bakk's comments "bizarre."
"I am not ashamed of my principles and beliefs," Thompson said. "To compare those beliefs and ideas and principles to a cult-like behavior is unproductive and, frankly, it's not fair ... These are philosophical differences and nothing more."
Meanwhile, Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL Duluth, was sending a letter to constituents: "I can tell you with all sincerity that after five months ... we are all ready to go home. To see our friends, be with our families, and sleep in our own beds."
Baird Helgeson • 651-222-1288