Lawmakers pessimistic about quick shutdown end

ST. PAUL -- Count many Minnesota legislators among those who expect a long government shutdown. "My gut tells me that if this goes two weeks, it will go until January," Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker said. Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, added th...

A frustrated Gov. Mark Dayton faces cameras and reporters Wednesday after top Republicans rejected his latest budget offer. He said the Republicans left his office saying they would consider the offer, only to reject it in front of reproters moments later. Forum Communications Co. photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Count many Minnesota legislators among those who expect a long government shutdown.

"My gut tells me that if this goes two weeks, it will go until January," Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker said.

Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, added that a quick end to the shutdown is not likely. "I'm not real optimistic at the moment. I'm always hopeful, but my optimism is fading."

The governor and legislative leaders gave their colleagues no reason for optimism Wednesday when they left their latest budget negotiations.

"Things went backwards today," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.


Moments later, Dayton told the media: "If this is a step backwards, they took the step backwards."

Dayton all but said Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, lied to him as they left his office. He said that they pledged to consider his latest offer to raise taxes, but "I gather they considered it for a minute and a half," the length of time between when they left the office and when they talked to reporters.

To the media, Zellers and Koch were clear they rejected the Dayton offer, continuing to stand against any tax increase.

Dayton gave Republicans, who control the Legislature, two options. One featured a temporary 2 percent income tax surcharge on millionaires, which would raise $520 million in the next two years. The other option, to raise $283 million, was highlighted by a $1-per-pack increase in cigarette taxes.

Both options included delaying school payments from the state, adding a health care surcharge and making a variety of small tax changes.

Zellers and Koch said they continue to ask Dayton to call the Legislature into a special session so a half-dozen spending bills nearing completion can pass. Once the easier bills pass and some of the 22,000 laid-off state workers go back to their jobs, the Republicans said, more controversial bills can be finished.

Both sides accused the other of refusing to budge in the budget debate, which is key to ending the shutdown that enters its seventh day today.

The court and legislative branches remain operating at full force even without a budget. So do the attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor offices. A third of employees under Dayton's control are working after a judge deemed their jobs essential.


"Compared to '05, everything just seems to be essential," Saxhaug said.

"I do get some comments from people about being affected, but not that many," Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said.

"It is not like they are suffering," Saxhaug said about Minnesotans.

Another thing to consider, Saxhaug said, is that many people are vacationing this week and not using state services.

But those on vacation in Minnesota are seeing some of the few problems legislators hear about. Saxhaug said he heard from a fishing guide and some resorts that are losing business because people from other states cannot buy fishing licenses.

Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said Minnesota is not acting very Minnesotan.

"There is no need to put everybody through this," Nornes said of tourists, state workers and others affected by the shutdown. "They are innocent participants."

Minnesotans are telling legislators they are not happy with lack of a state budget.


"People, they want to see the budget resolved," Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, said. "They want government operating again, but at the same time they want to see that it is done in a proper fiscal manner."

In his daily visits to McDonald's, Urdahl said, most questions have been, "What's going on? When do you think you can get it done?"

In the Annandale parade, he added, about a third of those who commented were against Republican proposals to keep state spending down and not allow new taxes, with the rest in support of the GOP.

Howe and a couple other lawmakers met with Dayton Tuesday to discuss an idea the senator promotes to expand the sales tax and eliminate the state income tax. While he says he is not raising the possibility to increase tax revenue, Howes said, more money could come in because an aging Minnesota population uses services that now are not taxed.

"My idea is not in search of more revenue," Howe said. "What I don't want to have happen is to use smoke and mirrors and accounting gimmicks."

Howe, the Red Wing senator, and Howes, the Walker representative, are considered among the more moderate Republicans, but both said they see little support for Dayton-style tax increases.

"In my conversations with people, and I have not pushed anyone to converse about it, I have had one person tell me to raise taxes," said Howes, who added that Dayton shut down Minnesota.

"I could not find anybody who was supporting Dayton's quest to raise taxes," Nornes said about his visits around the community Wednesday.


But Saxhaug, a Democrat, said his northeastern Minnesota constituents can be expected to support the Democratic governor.

"You would probably guess I am hearing more support for the governor up here," the Grand Rapids senator said.

"I get the feeling talking to people, they don't much care how they come up with the revenue ... find something and get it done," Saxhaug said.

From his Walker home, Howes said that even if the shutdown stretches out, there will be an end: "We're going to agree on something at some point in time. We always do."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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