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Budget talks at impasse over 'halfway' with session's finish line fast approaching

By Ricky Campbell
The State Capitol in St. Paul. Budget negotiations between legislative Republican leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton have broken down with the end of the 2017 session just days away. House Photography file photo

Amid a self-proclaimed budget impasse, administration officials and a House Republican leader traded barbs Thursday over the definition of “halfway” in spending targets as the legislative session barrels toward a midnight Monday deadline.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans and Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly told reporters that their boss, Gov. Mark Dayton, has already moved “halfway” in budget talks with the Republican-controlled Legislature.

But Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud) followed the Dayton-appointed duo by calling their target “fake midpoint math.”

The two sides have been in closed-door budget negotiations for at least three weeks, hoping to find common ground on how to fund state government to the tune of about $45 billion. Both the House and Senate passed numerous budget bills but Dayton vetoed every one.

Thursday’s exchange comes a day after Dayton unveiled his “Meet Half Way” budget offer, which would set aside $138.39 million of the state’s projected $1.5 billion surplus for the judicial branch and cybersecurity and divide the remaining $1.36 billion between taxes and transportation, and all other spending projects, from education to health care.

Republicans contend they funded courts and cybersecurity in other bills, so the governor is picking-and-choosing the midway point.

“It’s not half,” said Knoblach, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. “It’s not close to half. This isn’t a halfway budget … nice try.”

Frans defended Dayton’s budget position by saying it’s “not the full ask” with cybersecurity upgrades (Dayton previously proposed $74 million to for state cyber defense) and that the judiciary deserves to be funded better than what the Legislature proposed in its vetoed omnibus public safety bill.

Both sides say the next move belongs to the other.

“We’re at an impasse,” Frans said.

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