Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton reached an agreement with Republican leaders Thursday to end the state’s 14-day budget deal impasse.
Parties close to the discussions called the deal “imperfect,” although it was passed without any tax increases. The deal is almost identical to what Republicans offered on the eve of the government shutdown, minus the social policy changes they sought. Their desire to reduce the state’s workforce by 15 percent was not part of the deal.
“I expect to do everything around the clock with the urgency of getting the lights back on and Minnesotans back to work very soon,” Dayton said in a statement. “We’re going to get that done very, very, quickly.”
Dayton, who many felt gave into Republican demands, said he will call a special session to allow the government to open in a “few days.” Legislative aides are working over the weekend so members can have a prepared budget by Monday or Tuesday.
Although no new taxes were part of the deal, both sides agreed to raise revenue by delaying payments to schools and to sell tobacco payment bonds – a revenue producing strategy adopted by other states as a way to fill coffers.
In return, Republicans had to agree not to ban state aid for stem cell research, conceding to a larger budget number than they initially wanted.
Outside of his office, Dayton made the announcement of a budget deal alongside Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers. The tired and somber expressions on their faces told the story of an intense three-hour negotiating session.
“It was about making sure that we get a deal that we can all be disappointed in, but a deal that is done, a budget that was balanced, a state that was back to work,” Zellers said outside the Governor’s office.
It was clear Gov. Dayton was looking for a ray of light after having to give into more Republican demands than desired.
“Nobody is going to be happy with this, which is the essence of real compromise,” Dayton added.
So far, the state shutdown – the longest in recent history – has furloughed 22,000 state employees, closed rest stops and parks and cut off funding for social services. It has also reduced the state’s revenue since lottery tickets and alcohol receipts have not been collected. Payments to local governments and to schools have continued, along with programs involving childcare and home meal services to the elderly.
But the deal is not a slam-dunk by any means.
Republican rank and file members in both chambers will have to approve the budget and the Senate and House Majority leaders are counting votes and making sure their members will support the final version. Some Republicans have voiced concern over the amount of spending agreed to in the final meetings with the Governor.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said in a statement that passage of the budget would be up to Republicans, who hold a small majority in both chambers.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk shared a similar sentiment, adding that it is “premature” to say whether Democrats will vote for the final measure.
Political pundits on both sides agree on one point: Dayton caved.
“But Dayton is only about as clueless as Barack Obama, if for different reasons,” wrote Scott Johnson at Minnesota-based Powerline. “This is Minnesota. Republicans have mostly won a pitched battle with a Democratic governor on spending and taxes in a liberal state. Dayton caved on his signature issue. If Republicans can make it here, they can make it anywhere.”
David Schultz, a professor at Hamline University in St. Paul wrote that the budget agreement is a bad deal for everyone, but mostly for Dayton. Schultz believes Dayton and Obama have many traits in common.
“Do Republicans in Congress read what happened in Minnesota as a sign that if they hang tough Obama will blink too?,” Schultz wrote. “Obama too cares more about government than Congressional Republicans. He faces a tough election in 2012 and he has already demonstrated willingness to compromise on the Bush tax cuts and to reach out to moderate or swing voters. Look too to see him blink before or more than the Republicans in Congress.”
Dayton also had some advice for those in Washington.
“Don’t get too close to the precipice,” he commented. “Going to the brink, at least I’ve learned from this experience, is even more ill-advised than I thought.”