- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2011

A day before his state´s budget crisis moved into its third week, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton gave in and agreed to a largely Republican-designed proposal that would get the state of Minnesota back to business.

Ceding ground on his signature item - raising taxes on the state´s wealthiest residents as a way to increase revenue and close a projected $5 billion deficit - the first-term governor met with Republican leadership Thursday afternoon to hammer out a deal that would bring a new two-year budget to a vote.

The accord came with the Republicans, who control the state Legislature, accepting some conditions from the governor, including ending a plan to cut the state workforce by 15 percent and a ban on stem cell research.

But overall, the agreement was much like the one offered by Republicans on June 30 as lawmakers fought mightily to stop spending yet keep the state from shutting down on July 1. The deal - which pleased neither side and was described as bad but done - ends what has been described the longest state shutdown since 2002 and Minnesota´s second since 2005.

“We´ve reached a framework that will get Minnesota back to work yet still protect some of our vital services,” the governor said in a news conference late Thursday where he described the agreement as more stop-gap than sweeping in terms of helping the state right its long-term budget woes.

“The real solution is for the state of Minnesota´s economy to improve,” he said wearily, noting that “nobody is going to be happy about this, which is the essence of real compromise.”

The new budget plan will raise $700 million in tobacco settlement bonds and delay payments of another $700 million to school districts, pushing that line item into the next year.
Republicans lost ground on state spending as they had sought a budget cap of about $34 billion and ended up with one at $35.4 billion.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said after a three-hour meeting with the governor that it was a hard-struck bargain that, in the end, put state workers first.

“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,” said Mr. Zellers, a Republican.

A special legislative session will be called to formalize the plan with a full vote of the Legislature, although the governor did not specify a date, saying within “days.”

Republicans were not gloating about the governor´s decision to cede ground in order to stop the impasse, which had kept about 23,000 state employees out of work, shuttering construction projects, closing rest stops and licensing agencies and costing the state millions in revenue.

“Certainly we’re not doing any end-zone dances,” said Rep. Mike Benson, a Republican. “Realistically there are some things that are going to go down hard. Sounds to me we’re kicking the can down the road a little bit with the education shift, but we’re not raising taxes.”

Union leaders were unhappy with the deal as well, though not for the same reasons. “The only compromise this achieves is the compromising of our state´s working families,” said Julie Schnell, president of the SEIU, in a statement.

The tensions, both political and personal, had clearly been wearing on state residents.

Matt Eckholm, 19, studying to be a filmmaker at the University of Minnesota-Morehead, lost his job as a camera operator and graphics technician at the state-run Running Aces Harness Park. The job was the rising sophomore’s way to get some professional experience and save some money for college.

“It’s kind of ironic that Gov. Dayton says he’s doing this for college students and education - raising revenue - when I know that me and a couple of my co-workers are going to school. We are negatively affected by something that is supposed to help us.”

Mr. Eckholm said the impact of the shutdown has been evident everywhere: construction sites abandoned, rest areas closed, billboards filled with political attacks, including one that read, “Thanks, Gov. Dayton. Next rest stop: Iowa.”

Some bars that failed to get licenses renewed before the state closure reported beer and liquor stocks dwindling as they were unable to replenish their kegs and coolers.
Mr. Eckholm, who lives in Ham Lake, said he hopes state voters in 2012 and beyond have good memories.

“I really hope it costs them on both sides. At the very least, I hope Republicans will lose their majority and hopefully Gov. Dayton will lose his job, too.”

The tensions, both political and personal, had clearly been wearing on state residents.

Tensions also could be seen at the wedding Saturday of the daughter of Minnesota state Sen. Ted Lillie, a Republican. Rising to give the traditional father-of-the-bride toast at his daughter’s wedding, he joked that he was glad to have a microphone in his hand and not have to answer questions about the state’s simmering budget feud.

Later, when other guests raised a glass to the newlyweds, it was his brother, Minnesota state Rep. Leon Lillie, a Democrat, who responded in his own toast that, indeed, he had a few questions he wanted to ask his GOP sibling.

It was a lighthearted moment, but both Lillie brothers acknowledge the more serious issues involved.

“We talk about it at a very high level and sometimes we can kid each other about philosophy, but we obviously differ incredibly and that is hard to discuss,” said Ted Lillie, who represents the state’s 56th District and who runs a suburban newspaper group.

The brothers, he said, have a history of public service and have remained friends, even as their approach to solving the state’s fiscal crisis - and their political philosophies - are miles apart.

“This is very serious,” he said. “People are out of work. This is impacting families, everything in the state.”

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