Lawmakers Tight-Lipped As Minnesota Government Shutdown Looms

Budget negotiations are going down to the wire in Minnesota — where the state is heading for a government shutdown if a budget deal isn’t passed by the end of the week. And lawmakers are keeping tight-lipped about the progress of their negotiations.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton met with Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch Monday evening to continue hammering out a deal. But details of the meetings have, for the most part, been kept under wraps. The meeting Monday follows negotiations over the weekend that broke off abruptly Sunday.“I’m not going to lay odds on it but there are two possibilities and we are committed to doing everything possible to (avoid) a shutdown,” Dayton said after the meeting Monday, the Star Tribune reports. “We had a very good conversation. They asked some very good questions and I had some answers.”

Minnesota House GOP Director of Public Affairs Jodi Boyne told TPM the vagueness is the “most productive” way to achieve progress.

And Dayton press secretary Katharine Tinucci told TPM the governor and legislative leaders “committed to not talking publicly about what happens in the room.” Dayton himself has called it a “cone of silence.”

But both parties remain optimistic — publicly, at least — that a deal can be reached before the end of the week.

“[Speaker Zellers] remains committed to getting a budget agreement before the June 30 deadline,” Boyne said. “[He’s] ready to work around the clock to make that happen.”

And Tinucci said the meetings over the weekend were “productive.”

“It is certainly possible to reach a deal before the end of the week to avert a shutdown,” she added.

Dayton and the Republican-controlled legislature remain divided on how to close the state’s projected $5 billion deficit. Dayton’s approach has focused on a combination of tax increases on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans and spending cuts, while the Republican plan has focused on mostly on spending cuts.

Minnesota Public Radio has a helpful side-by-side comparison of the Dayton budget and the legislature’s budget. Both were passed and eventually vetoed by Dayton, as MPR reports.

The budgets differ most on taxes, state government workforce spending, transportation and economic development. Dayton’s budget would seek to raise $1.8 billion in income tax increases. On the other side, the legislature’s “cuts to state aid could create up to $534 million in property taxes in the next biennium.”

While lawmakers won’t say much publicly, Zellers and Koch sent an emotional appeal to state workers Monday in an email.

“… we want to personally let you know that we do not want a government shutdown,” the letter reads. “This is a serious time for you, for us and for our state.”

“We, like you, know what it is like to sit around the kitchen table, pay the bills and balance our household budget. We know that our balanced budget includes difficult decisions for state agencies. but you can be sure about one thing: our budget keeps state agencies open on July 1 and state employees will continue getting paychecks beyond June 30.”

In perhaps the email’s strongest language, the GOP leaders borrowed language from a Pioneer Press editorial, likening Dayton’s tactics to “hostage taking.”

A number of state employees have objected to the email being sent over the state’s email system, calling it a purely political move.

Budget negotiations are scheduled to pick back up at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

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