Dayton and GOP leaders call today’s budget talks ‘productive’

Gov. Dayton and GOP legislative leaders intend to continue budget negotiations tomorrow with the hope of averting a state government shutdown next Friday. The two sides wrapped up an all-day round of private budget meetings today.

“We made progress,” GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said to reporters during a brief news conference.

The two sides met privately in a conference room outside of the Speaker Office in the State Office Building. The chairs of the respective committees shuffled in and out of meetings that featured Koch, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, GOP House Speaker Kurt Zellers, House Majority Leader Matt Dean and House Ways and Means Chair Mary Liz Holberg. Gov. Dayton was flanked by Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter, DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen and DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk.

Dayton and the GOP controlled Legislature disagree over the best way to erase a $5 billion projected budget deficit. Dayton wants to increase taxes on top earners. Republicans say the shortfall can be erased through spending cuts.

Neither side offered specifics on the discussions but Dayton called it a constructive day.

“We’ve run through a number of expenditure bills,” Dayton said. “We’ve come to agreement on considerable parts of them. We’ve had areas of disagreement on parts of them. We have areas of disagreement that we’ll go back to but it was a very worthwhile day but I feel good about the rapport we’ve established, the civility that prevailed and the results that we’ve achieved.”

Dayton and GOP leaders declined to say if they reached agreement on a total budget amount. Zellers and Koch said they talked mostly about State Government Finance, K12, Transportation, Public Safety and the Courts and Jobs and Economic Development in today’s meetings. They say they’ll talk about those bills along with Taxes, Health and Human Services, Environment and Higher Education tomorrow.

Dayton was careful to note that they haven’t reached agreement on any individual budget bills.

Zellers said Governor Dayton and Republican leaders both want to reach a deal.

“We’ve gone through spreadsheets. We took out highlighters,” Zellers said. “It was a very productive day. We covered a lot of issue areas in the time that we were in there. I share the governor’s sentiment.”

Dayton and lawmakers are bumping against a July first deadline. State government will shut down if Dayton and lawmakers don’t reach a budget deal.

There have been a few signals that the two sides are making progress in reaching a deal. They held a news conference together instead of separately. They have also declined to discuss budget specifics with the press and dropped their respective talking points during their brief comments to the media. But Dayton signaled that they still had work to do when asked if he was optimistic that a deal can be reached by next Friday.

“I’m not confident of anything other than the sun rising,” Dayton said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Dayton and GOP leaders meet again tomorrow morning at 9:30.

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