Nothing Thursday: Sniping but no talks at Capitol

Time is running out on the 2017 legislative session, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders made no progress Thursday toward resolving their budget disagreements.

They didn’t even meet.

Negotiations ground to a halt Wednesday night after the latest exchange of proposed budget frameworks, and instead of more closed-door meetings the two sides argued publicly Thursday over what constitutes middle ground.

The deadline for the session to end is midnight Monday, and the longer it takes to reach an agreement the harder it will be to work out the details, print the bills and pass them in time to avoid a special session.

Dayton’s last proposal Wednesday, which he characterized as meeting Republicans halfway, was flatly rejected. He followed suit by rejecting a GOP counteroffer.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans said Republicans have to come closer to the governor’s numbers.

“He really went to the 50-yard line, and we’re waiting for the Legislature to come to the 50-yard line. So, we’re at an impasse. I’m not saying we’re not going to do anything differently in the future. Right now though, we made an offer to meet halfway and we haven’t been met halfway, and that’s why we’re at an impasse right now.”

Republicans contend that Dayton’s so-called halfway offer is a miscalculation and a mischaracterization.

Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the governor didn’t start calculating the midpoint until he set aside $83 million for the state court system and $45 million for cyber security improvements. Knoblach said Dayton also is taking $350 million from a special health care fund and not counting it against his midpoint.

“It’s not half. It’s nowhere close to half. This isn’t a halfway budget. If we’re going to consider a halfway budget we’ve got to consider all the spending. We’ve got to consider all the funds that are being talked about. All I can say to my friend Commissioner Frans is, nice try.”

The latest breakdown in negotiations came after a few days of modest progress. Despite having a $1.5 billion surplus, big differences remain on how much to spend, how much to return as tax cuts and how to pay for road and bridge projects.

Dayton’s latest offer designates $682 million to be divided between two Republican priorities: tax cuts and transportation funding. He wants GOP leaders to decide how to divvy it up.

Frans explained that under the governor’s plan, there’s another $682 million available to spend in other budget areas.

“His priorities are really to make sure that we fund government, we take care of people and we make sure that the resources we have are divided fairly and equitably among all the different people in Minnesota.”

Knoblach also took exception with that part of the proposal. He said House Republicans view all parts of the budget as important.

“I don’t think we should be looking at things from the governor’s perspective, and say ‘oh well, Republicans they’re concerned about transportation and taxes, and we’re concerned about other things.’ I guess I hope the governor is concerned about transportation and taxes, and we in the Legislature are very concerned about all the other areas of the budget.”