(This post has been updated)
Speaker Kurt Daudt had dinner Wednesday night with Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and breakfast Thursday morning with Gov. Mark Dayton, but the GOP House leader reported afterward that a 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 told a group of reporters Thursday, clustered with four other GOP lawmakers outside the Minnesota Governor's Residence after dining with Dayton.
Daudt reported some minor progress, after he, Bakk and other House GOP and Senate DFL lawmakers met until about 10:30 p.m. Wednesday. Daudt confirmed the group agreed on a 2015-16 spending level for agriculture and environmental programs, one of the smallest slices of total state spending.
Private talks will continue throughout Thursday, Daudt said. Dayton, Daudt and Bakk are scheduled to share a boat on Lake Vermillion on Saturday for the 2015 fishing opener. Daudt said he and Dayton made a friendly bet that "whoever gets the biggest fish, the other one has to buy him lunch."
While Dayton likes to ridicule his own prowess as a fisherman, Daudt said he has a "lucky hand" on the lake.
Dayton and Senate DFLers want a two-year budget approaching $43 billion, with a few modest-reaching tax cuts. The House GOP favors about $40 billion in spending on services and much heftier tax cuts, about $2 billion worth.
A major aspect of the House plan is the elimination of MinnesotaCare, a subsidized health plan for low-income people. Participants would be diverted to the state health insurance marketplace. Daudt said that was a major topic of discussion at Thursday's breakfast; Dayton has called any move to shutter MinnesotaCare a non-starter.
Daudt called MinnesotaCare and MNsure "duplicative."
"That's a big concern for us and we think now is the time to start, if we're not eliminating that program, transitioning folks to another program," Daudt said. "Kind of combine the two if you will. We think that makes more sense over time."
Daudt and Bakk were back behind closed doors around lunchtime, in Bakk's office off the Senate floor. Prior to the meeting, Bakk, too, said the DFL and GOP still had major disagreements over health and human services spending levels, the size of tax cuts and other matters.