Dayton taking budget message across Minnesota
ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton hits the road this week in an effort to convince Minnesotans that it is worth shutting down state government to get a better budget from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Also, the Democratic-Farmer-Laborite governor on Monday said he would consider increasing alcohol and cigarette taxes, and broaden the state sales tax, if Republicans propose those measures.
Republican legislative leaders rejected Dayton's ideas as just more tax increase proposals and renewed their call for him to order a special legislative session to begin immediately so that lawmakers could pass a temporary budget to put 22,000 state employees back to work and reactivate the programs they run.
Dayton and top legislators did not meet Monday and no talks are scheduled. Each side indicated it was waiting for the other to present a new budget offer.
The government shutdown enters its 12th day today, the longest in Minnesota history and the longest of any state in at least two decades.
Top lawmakers and Dayton have met for less than two hours since the shutdown began on July 1, disagreeing about whether the state needs to spend more than the $34 billion Republicans want in the next two years.
Dayton said he is traveling the state to get out his message, which is in part that Republicans refuse to compromise.
"When the voters deliver a split verdict, as they did in Minnesota last November, then neither side is entitled to have it all their way," Dayton said in a YouTube video.
His message this week will be that a Republican budget of $1.8 billion less than what he wants would hurt Minnesotans who depend on state-funded health care and could turn the state's schools into a "mediocre state educational system"
Dayton, standing in front of the closed state Capitol, told reporters that he will be in St. Cloud today, hopes to visit the southeast on Wednesday and tentatively plans a Moorhead stop Friday. Today's meeting is in a St. Cloud school with Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius.
Dayton sent a letter to GOP leaders Monday saying that he is willing to discuss the alcohol and tobacco taxes, even though they are not his favorite ways of raising money, and to add a sales tax to more goods and services, although he does not favor taxing food or clothes.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, asked Dayton to call lawmakers back into special session before he leaves on his state tour. Only the governor can call a special session.
Six budget bills could be passed soon, Koch said, and a temporary budget approved for the tougher budget areas. Dayton insists on an overall agreement before allowing any budget bills to pass.
"First and foremost, we would like to have a lights on," Koch said about the temporary funding bill.
GOP leaders also asked for Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon to get involved in budget talks.
Koch said Prettner Solon has a good relationship with lawmakers since she left the Senate to become Dayton's No. 2. "People see her as a colleague."
Dayton's spokeswoman said that Prettner Solon has been involved in various aspects of budget talks, even if not when Dayton meets with only Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove.
While leaders do not negotiate, two-thirds of the Dayton administration employees are off work because the old budget ended June 30 and only those who a judge determines are essential may stay on the job.
Koch said the shutdown costs $65 million a week, including items ranging from unemployment benefits for those laid off to construction delays to loss of private sector spending.
Also Monday, Minnesota Chief Justice Lorie Gildea scheduled a July 27 Supreme Court hearing in a lawsuit six Republican lawmakers filed claiming that the court system has no authority to authorize state spending. The lawmakers say the state Constitution gives the Legislature sole authority to authorize spending. Judges have allowed the judicial and legislative branches to remain operating, as well as a third of the Dayton administration employees.
Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin of Ramsey County late last month ordered the state to continue funding what she termed essential programs. Her order, which approved Dayton's suggestions for what to keep open, laid the framework for a appointing "special master" who recommends specific programs that should remain open.
Gearin heard an argument from Polymet, a company that wants to begin copper and nickel mining on the Iron Range but needs an environmental study done before it can begin work. Polymet asked Gearin to allow state workers to continue doing their work on the study.
Today, northern Minnesota loggers who want to keep cutting timber on state land during a shutdown go in front of Gearin. And on Wednesday, state legislative transportation chairmen Sen. Joe Gimse of Willmar and Rep. Michael Beard of Shakopee, along with road contractors, ask the judge to allow road constructing projects to resume.
Gearin accepted former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz's recommendation that the state continue funding nutritional programs for the elderly.
On the Internet: www.youtube.com/govmarkdayton
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.