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Legislative leaders, governor lay out framework for budget negotiations

A view of the State Capitol May 3. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton met Wednesday for about an hour behind closed doors, laying the groundwork for negotiations going forward over budget bills currently stuck in conference committee.

House and Senate conferees have reached agreements on most budget bills and now it’s up to House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) to find agreement with Dayton and DFL leaders.

Their talks will continue Thursday, they said, with both Dayton and Republican leaders claiming they will first focus on the higher education and agriculture finance omnibus bills.

“I think what we’re going to try to do (Thursday) is start with some bills that are easier so we can show some progress and get everyone kind of feeling good about working together,” Daudt said during a press briefing after the meeting.

The groups have until a constitutional deadline of May 22 to pass budget bills for the governor to sign.

WATCH Gov. Dayton and House/Senate DFL leadership media availability

“We’re going to push for that,” Gazelka said. “I’m hoping there’s some openness. Without that, it’s difficult to fit the policy issues or take out the policy issues.”

Policy in budget bills is driving a wedge between the Republican-controlled Legislature and DFLer Dayton. Specifically citing problems with the transportation omnibus bill’s provisions related to the Metropolitan Council and the Counties Transit Improvement Board, the governor said he wouldn’t consider negotiating the bill until Republicans remove those policies.

“We have 609 policy provisions in the various budget bills and I have no intention of going through 609 policy provisions point-by-point. If we did, we’d be here for the next two months or longer,” said Dayton after the meeting.

The governor was not opposed to some policy in the bills but wanted a manageable amount.

DFLers echoed Dayton’s concerns, with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) saying “the process has gone off the tracks” by conference committees adding policies lawmakers know Dayton disagrees with.

WATCH House/Senate Republican leadership media availability 

“It’s like they gave no consideration to the position of the governor and his commissioners,” Bakk said.

The policy provisions in higher education and agriculture, Dayton noted, were fewer than other bills such as jobs and energy and environment. Dayton said if the parties can gain ground on these bills early, legislative business could be finished “in a timely conclusion.”

“If we get bogged down with one of those as we got bogged down in 2015, and we’re going through every particular and every disagreement, then I will conclude that this is not a practical way of resolving our differences,” Dayton said. 

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