Legislators go home no closer to primary goal of passing budget
ST. PAUL -- The smiles seen Jan. 4, opening day of the 2011 legislative session, became frowns by Monday as Minnesota's 201 lawmakers headed home with no idea when they will wrap up their primary job: writing a two-year budget.
Republicans who run the Legislature said they did their part before the Monday night constitutional adjournment date. They passed 10 budget and tax bills to fund state government with $34 billion for the two years beginning July 1.
However, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton only signed a $79 million measure funding agriculture programs, including food inspection, into law. The bulk of the budget remained unfinished when lawmakers hit their adjournment deadline because, Dayton said, GOP leaders refuse to negotiate how much the state should spend.
Three hours before the midnight adjournment deadline, Republican leaders said they were ready to discuss the budget with Dayton.
"This is the budget than can pass the Legislature," Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said while standing in front of the governor's office and state union protesters who agree with a Dayton tax-increase plan.
Dayton already had gone home for the night, but a spokesman said GOP leaders could contact him at any time.
Republican committee chairmen met with Dayton on Monday, but there were no serious discussions about how much to spend.
Legislators left the Capitol frustrated after their adjournment deadline.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, put the blame squarely on Dayton, whom she called "totally irresponsible" and accused of wasting time and taxpayer resources by bringing the session to a grinding halt.
"He has known the whole session we are not going to raise taxes," Franson said. "We are going to live within our means."
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, would have none of blaming Dayton.
"What we have seen is a colossal failure of leadership of the Republicans," Thissen said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called Republicans' dedication to small-government, low-tax principles cult-like.
Republicans, of course, disagreed. Sen. Dave Thompson, one of the Senate Republican leaders, said new Republican legislators, in particular, are committed to their smaller-government beliefs. Voters, the Lakeville senator said, expect GOP lawmakers "to hold to those principles. ... I view it as a virtue, not a vice."
Sen. Ted Lillie, like Thompson a rookie senator, said Republicans passed a balanced budget like voters want. The Lake Elmo lawmaker said talks will continue, even after Monday's deadline.
A special legislative session will be needed to finish the budget. When that session could be called, and what needs to be done to reach that point, is anyone's guess. Dayton has said he will start thinking about such things today.
If a new budget is not finished by July 1, much of state government will shut down.
Koch said legislative leaders will continue to meet with Dayton to try to draw up a new budget and prevent a shutdown.
Dayton said he will ask Minnesotans to register their views about a government shutdown.
The governor has blamed Republicans for failing to negotiate and on Monday indicated that they need to move.
"Where there is a will, there's a way," Dayton said, "but there has to be some willingness."
Nine budget and tax bills sit on Dayton's desk for signatures or vetoes, and all indications are it will be the latter.
Accomplishments include the Legislature passing a controversial constitutional amendment defining a marriage as between a man and a woman, essentially banning gay marriages. Voters will decide the issue in November of 2012.
Early on, lawmakers and Dayton agreed to speed the environmental permitting process and giving mid-career professionals an easier way to become teachers.
Money was the main issue in the session.
Under current law, the state would spend $39 billion in the next two years. Dayton originally proposed $37 billion, but lowered that to $35.8 billion last week.
Republicans insist on spending only what already is due to come into the state treasury: $34 billion. They say they will not accept higher taxes.
During last year's campaign, many Republicans were talking about something closer to $30 billion or $31 billion in the next two years.
A week ago, Dayton announced he would trim in half his proposed $3 billion-plus tax increase and would accept deeper spending cuts than he earlier planned. But that was as far as he will go, he said.
Republican legislative leaders plan to fly around the state today to discuss the session, with stops in Rochester, Mankato, Glyndon, Brainerd and Duluth.
Democrats also plan to talk to the media in the next couple of days in sites around the state.
Lawmakers introduced 3,334 bills this year, most of which never received committee hearings. Dayton signed 33 into law, far fewer than usual, although many bills that passed in the final days of the session are headed his way.
Twin Cities freelance writer Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this report. Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.