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Gov. Dayton 'extremely, extremely disappointed' in latest GOP offer

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton this afternoon said he is the most discouraged he has been over a budget impasse after seeing what he called a budget "non-proposal" by legislative Republicans.

The Democratic governor told reporters that he does not know the next move as the state stands two weeks away from a government shutdown if political leaders cannot agree on a two-year budget.

"The non-proposal is extremely, extremely disappointing," Dayton said. "Probably the most disappointing part of this session."

The governor's comments offered no sign that a deal can be cut in time to avoid a shutdown.

Republican leaders offered to drop their plan to cut taxes $200 million, redistributing the money to a variety of areas ranging from disaster relief to higher education.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said the offer was sincere and gave up a firmly held GOP ideal of cutting taxes.

Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said their offer could be groundwork for an overall budget deal.

"This is far preferable to what the governor proposed yesterday," Koch said, referring to Dayton's plan for how to deal with a possible shutdown.

In the meantime, the Legislature's transportation leaders asked for a special legislative session to pass a transportation-funding bill that could keep up to 10,000 construction and state workers on the job. Dayton rejected the request, saying he will not agree to any part of the state budget until he can agree to it all.

Without a special session, legislative transportation chairmen Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Michael Beard said, a government shutdown would suspend work on roads across the state and cost millions of dollars to mothball and later restart once a budget passes.

On the transportation issue, Republicans Gimse of Willmar and Beard of Shakopee said they plan to launch a statewide tour with their request next week after Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton rejected the idea.

"There is no logical reason to shut down construction," Gimse said.

If Dayton and Republican legislative leaders do not reach a deal for the two-year budget that begins on July 1, much of state government could shut down because it lacks authority to spend money. That would include highway construction projects, where the transportation leaders said up to 10,000 people are working.

Gimse and Beard have written a new transportation funding bill that uses $4.6 billion in gasoline and motor vehicle taxes that must be spent on transportation. They removed general fund money that is part of overall budget talks.

However, the $62 million in general funds they removed from the new bill would be used for transit and as recently as Wednesday Dayton said he cannot accept Republican cuts in that area.

The governor's office repeated this morning that Dayton will not sign some budget bills until deals are reached on them all.

Only Dayton can call a special session, but he has no control over what legislators do once it convenes.

The transportation chairmen said they promised Dayton that if he would call a special transportation-funding session that they would work on passing transit funding in a later special session dealing with the rest of the budget.

Gimse said that road funding is especially important this year because of "extreme" damage winter weather did to state roads. With a short construction season, he said, any work suspension will end up leaving some roads unfixed.

The issue arises because so far the only budget bill signed into law funds agriculture programs, leaving the rest unsettled and state leaders facing a July 1 deadline.

Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson have asked the Ramsey County District Court to get involved and to decide what programs can receive funding if no budget passes by July 1.

Concerned about what will happen in court, the Senate Rules Committee voted to get involved, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.

"The Senate should have a seat at the table," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said.

However, Koch added, she is not interested in filing a lawsuit over the shutdown.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he was uncomfortable with the resolution because it left decisions up to Koch about what position the Senate might take.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.