Zellers talks budget…

Republican legislative leaders and Governor Mark Dayton are heading into their second day of budget talks since a partial state government shutdown. The two sides met yesterday without reporting any progress. House Speaker Kurt Zellers told MPR’s Morning Edition today he expects talks will narrow to health care programs this afternoon.

“I think that will be a lot of the focus today,” Zellers said. “Where our health care folks have been, what they have been able to accomplish you know in the last day or two here, and seeing if maybe that number that we were apart really wasn’t as far apart as we though it was.”

Zellers said one area that they can find cost savings is by asking the federal government for approval to change how the federal Medicaid program is run in the state. Dayton has said there’s no guarantee the federal government will approve the request.

Zellers also renewed his call for Dayton to call lawmakers back into special session, something Dayton said he’s not willing to do until a full budget deal is reached.

Dayton and the GOP controlled Legislature are at odds over the best way to erase a $5 billion budget deficit. Dayton wants to raise income taxes on top earners. Republicans say they don’t want to spend any more money.

Zellers repeated his stance that the GOP budget offers from last week are now off the table because Gov. Dayton rejected them. Republicans suggested an additional K12 payment shift and borrowing against future tobacco payments to bring in more revenue. The governor said he would accept one of those options but not both because it won’t fix the state’s budget problems over the long-term.

Zellers said the K12 shift and the tobacco bonding is “not perfect” but said those options are better than Dayton’s income tax increase.

“Rather than taxing a small businesswoman out of the state because she files her business and personal income together,” Zellers said. “Raising those taxes with tough economic times and when our neighboring states and states all across the country aren’t makes Minnesota uncompetitive,”

Zellers also didn’t take an expansion of gambling off of the table. But he said some of the problems with gambling is that local officials in Minneapolis and Bloomington aren’t interested in a casino in their cities.

“That would be one option, yes” Zellers said of expanding gambling. “I’m not opposed to that. If it’s not something the governor is going to sign, I don’t think we should put the taxpayers or the legislators through the exercise.”

Dayton has said he’s open to an expansion gambling but questioned whether the revenues generated from a casino or a slot machines at the state’s horse tracks would generate significant revenue.

Zellers also reiterated that GOP legislators are comfortable with their $34 billion budget. The key question is whether they can find a proposal that meets Dayton’s demands for more revenue.

Here’s the full interview:

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