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The search for middle ground

May 18, 2011
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Not only are the two sides at the Capitol not making any ground on resolving the state's budget crisis, they actually seem to be growing farther apart.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday opened late-session budget talks by paring back his tax proposal - an offer that was immediately rejected by House and Senate Republicans, who want to erase the $5 billion deficit through spending cuts, not a raise in taxes. Dayton and top Republican lawmakers are still split over taxes and spending after a breakfast meeting Tuesday failed to resolve their differences.

Later Tuesday, the House voted down Dayton's proposal to raise income taxes on the state's wealthiest citizens, 73-60, after more than four hours of debate. The vote fell on party lines with the exception of one Democrat who voted against the plan.

"Governor Dayton has shown he is willing to compromise by saying he'll meet Republicans half way - $1.8 billion in revenue, $1.8 billion in cuts, they've all agreed on the education shift, but the Republicans in the House and Senate are stuck with their feet in concrete," said District 20A Rep. Andrew Falk. "It shows who the adult is in the room. Governor Dayton realizes he won't get everything he wants but that's part of compromise - you get some things you want and some things you don't want and in the end you get a product that works."

Dayton has said he won't consider signing pieces of the budget without an overall agreement, nor will he agree to a deficit fix that relies solely on reduced spending, but majority Republicans strongly oppose tax increases, saying it would hurt job creation and economic recovery.

Falk said there are enough tea party members in the Legislature who want to shut government down and won't allow the process to move forward. In the end, it all leads to the growing potential of another special session and increases the possibility of a government shutdown this summer.

"If they can't get their work done that's gonna wind up being the case," Falk said. "There's a few people that actually want nothing more than to shut government down, they are true believers that government is the problem. Unfortunately, that's the rhetoric we're dealing with. I think nobody wants to go to a special session - the governor doesn't, my caucus doesn't, members of leadership don't.

"Speaker (Kurt) Zellers and Majority Leader (Amy) Koch have said their offer is their first, last and best offer. That's really not how you negotiate," said Falk, D-Murdock. "That shows the childish ways they have. They're stuck in the position that 'this is all we'll give you and we won't do anything more.' Governor Dayton says he's not gonna move further than this. He has given ground, now it's time for them to come to him."

District 21 Sen. Gary Dahms said Republicans already attempted to meet the governor half way with a $34.2 billion budget for the next two-year period, while Dayton's was at $37 billion.

"The governor wants to go half way of the half way," said Dahms, R-Redwood Falls. "We just have to work this out. Will there be movement? I don't know where that movement would be. We're working hard to get the session closed with a balanced budget bill on May 23rd.

"To specifically say what kind of compromise there will be, I don't know," he added. "Our feeling right now is that we have compromised. We went to 34 (billion) and are expecting him to come down. We'll see how that plays out."

Dahms is holding out optimism that an agreement can be made by the end of the day Monday when the Legislature is constitutionally required to adjourn.

"We've still got six days left; a lot can transpire," he said. "I've been told by folks here that sometimes the least expected thing is what it takes to get things together."



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