Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt had breakfast Thursday with Gov. Mark Dayton, and dinner the night before with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, but the GOP leader reported afterward that a state budget deal to close the legislative session is not yet imminent.
“At this point we’re still quite a ways away, but optimistic that we’ll get to a final number and get the session closed out on time,” Daudt, R-Crown, said after dining with Dayton at the governor’s residence in St. Paul. He and Bakk reported initial agreement, or something close to it, on some smaller categories of state spending, including funds for agricultural and environmental programs.
It’s that time of year, when the leading legislators, the governor and their top aides disappear behind closed doors to hash out final tax and spending levels for a two-year state budget. The session ends on May 18 at midnight, and the pace of meetings among Daudt, Bakk, Dayton and others has started to accelerate.
Daudt and Bakk met for about two hours Wednesday afternoon, then reconvened at dinner time and worked until about 10:30 p.m. After Dayton’s breakfast with Republicans on Thursday morning, Daudt and Bakk went back behind closed doors for several more lengthy chunks of time throughout the day.
Bakk, DFL-Cook, agreed with Daudt that wide gulfs remain between Senate DFLers and Dayton on one hand, and House Republicans on the other. DFLers favor nearly $43 billion in spending for 2016-17, with modest-reaching tax cuts. Republicans favor just under $40 billion in spending on services, along with much weightier tax cuts, about $2 billion worth.
Daudt said a major topic of discussion at the breakfast with Dayton was the GOP proposal, which the House has passed, to phase out MinnesotaCare, the subsidized health plan for low-income people. Dayton and Bakk have said repeatedly that DFLers would not let that happen.
“The Senate has been pretty clear in negotiations that we’re not going to dismantle MinnesotaCare,” Bakk said.
The pace of talks may slow somewhat over the weekend, with Saturday bringing the state fishing opener and Mother’s Day on Sunday. However, Dayton, Bakk and Daudt are set to share a fishing boat on Saturday morning on Lake Vermilion. It will be familiar turf for Bakk, who represents the area, and Dayton, whose family owns a home on the lake.
Daudt said he and Dayton made a friendly bet that “whoever gets the biggest fish, the other one has to buy him lunch.” And while Dayton is known to frequently ridicule his own prowess as a fisherman, Daudt said he has a “lucky hand” when it comes to angling.