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West central Minn. lawmakers holding onto slim hope for last-minute deal

WILLMAR -- Most local lawmakers say they are holding out hope, albeit slim, that a last-minute budget agreement can be reached and a state shutdown avoided.

"I'm still optimistic," said Rep. Bruce Vogel. "I'm hopeful we can see some of this stuff resolved."

But the Republican freshman from Willmar admits he is giving the shutdown a 60 percent chance of happening.

If the partial shutdown of the state does become reality on July 1, it would be disappointing and "totally unnecessary," said Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar. "But I'm going to hold out hope until midnight tomorrow (Thursday) night."

Rep. Andrew Falk, a Democrat from Murdock, is a little more grim. Even if an agreement was reached today, paperwork and logistics would make it difficult to avoid even a short shutdown, he said.

When it comes to solving the budget stalemate, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said there has to be "movement on both sides" but said Gov. Mark Dayton is "dug in" on his position of increasing taxes and spending.

Urdahl acknowledged that Republicans are also dug in on their position. "One of the things we're not moving on is increasing taxes," he said.

Falk said Dayton must deal with unpaid bills left from former Gov. Tim Pawlenty's use of cost shifts rather than taxes and that Republicans need to "bring some compromise and bring some common sense" to the table.

Negotiations between Dayton and legislative leaders have gone on under a "cone of silence" with few, if any, details passed onto caucus members. If an agreement emerges that includes a tax increase, it would be a tough sell to local Republicans.

"I don't believe in increasing taxes at this point," Vogel said. "It's not how you stimulate the economy."

Political mouthpieces from both sides have dished blame back and forth on the budget stalemate and pending shutdown.

The four legislators interviewed for this story were asked if they were ready to share part of the blame.

"There's plenty of blame to be shared for everyone. So, yeah, we're the Legislature. I'll take my share," said Urdahl.

Vogel, however, said he ran on the promise of not spending more than what the state took in, so when it comes to accepting some of the blame: "I want to say no. I don't think so."

Falk also said he's holding his head high because he voted for a "balanced approach" of increasing taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans and spending cuts that would reduce services, which he said is the best plan to protect Minnesotans because everyone participates in a "shared sacrifice" for the betterment of the state.

Lawmakers have been hearing from constituents on the budget and potential shutdown.

Vogel said he gets 60 to 75 emails each day and that it's a 50-50 split on raising taxes or just making cuts.

Falk said since Friday he's received 200 emails in response to his request for feedback. About 98 percent of the respondents -- which he said included Republicans, Democrats and independents -- all wanted a balanced approach.

Gimse said he hears from both sides, but said the number of calls has dwindled this last week.

Urdahl said he has not had a lot of constituent calls but said there are twice as many people telling him to "hang in there" with his position to not raise taxes.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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