Saturday budget talks underway

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders are back behind closed doors this morning for daylong negotiations aimed at avoiding a state government shutdown on July 1.

They spent about seven hours in private meetings Friday, and afterwards described the talks as productive. The top lawmakers said they would not offer any specifics on the negotiations until there was a resolution, and they stayed true to that pledge today as they entered the meeting room.

Dayton had little to say when asked for any words of wisdom.

“I’m waiting for the wisdom to eminate in the room,” Dayton said. “I wouldn’t want to squander any wisdom, since it’s so scarce, before I get in there. I’m looking forward to a good day. We had a good day yesterday I’m very hopeful we’ll have a good day today.”

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, offered a similarly guarded assessment.

“We have another productive day of going through spreadsheets, comparing budget items, what we’ve done before,” Zellers said.

Zellers said he expected the talks today to focus on environment, health and human services, higher education and taxes. He also said he remained upbeat about avoiding a shutdown.

“I’ve remained optimistic that we don’t need a government shutdown from the very beginning, that we can get done with this. But we continue to be positive, we continue to be optimistic, we continue to work hard at this, and we’ll do it again today.”

In addition to Dayton and Zellers, the meeting participants are Senate GOP Majority Leader Amy Koch, Deputy Senate GOP Majority Leader Geoff Michel, House GOP Majority Leader Matt Dean, House Ways and Means chair Mary Liz Holberg, Senate DFL Minority Leader Tom Bakk, House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen and management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter.

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