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Republicans complain as Dayton skips education funding meeting

ST. PAUL -- Republican lawmakers were upset this morning when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton skipped a meeting with them about education funding.

"It is very difficult when the governor does not show up," Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said after leaving a meeting in the governor's office. "We need him to come out and play."

Leading education lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, said they expected Dayton to be there.

But Democrats said there is little that can be done until Dayton and Republicans who control the Legislature come to an overall spending target.

"We're basically walking right into a state shutdown," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said about lack of an overall deal.

The meeting, held with Dayton commissioners and other top aides, was to discuss public school funding issues. An overall budget meeting with Dayton and GOP leaders is planned for tonight.

The meetings are coming two weeks after the regular legislative session adjourned with most of the state budget left in dispute. Only spending for agriculture programs was passed and signed into law.

Dayton insists that Republicans find at least $1.8 billion in new revenue, such as his plan to increase taxes on the best-earning 2 percent of Minnesotans. Republicans, meanwhile, refuse to consider spending more than $34 billion in the next two years, saying that is what existing taxes and fees would bring the state. Dayton's budget adds up to $35.8 billion.

Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said that when lawmakers learned Dayton would not attend this morning's meeting, after they already were in his office, it felt like "somebody let all the air out of the room."

With education spending 40 percent of the state budget, and the two sides not far apart on spending levels, Kelly said he expected the governor to attend.

"It kind of feels like we were slighted," Kelly said.

An email from Dayton's office, supplied by Republicans, indicated Dayton would attend. The governor's office offered no immediate explanation about why he was not there.

Garofalo said there was no explanation why Dayton did not attend. "Maybe he was out walking his dog."

The Farmington lawmaker said Dayton must be involved: "This is not going to work without him."

Earlier in the year, Dayton and Garofalo praised each other when the governor signed into law a bill giving mid-career professionals an easier path to obtain teacher licenses. Garofalo said that experience would help them reach a school-funding agreement.

However, Stumpf said he has learned in 31 years as a lawmaker that there is little that can be done on individual spending areas until the governor and lawmakers agree on an overall spending target.

Stumpf, who lives as far away from the Capitol as any lawmaker, said he will follow news accounts to see if there is overall budget progress, but will not return to the Capitol until there is.

"I am going to be getting out of town as soon as I can," he said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.