Minnesota leaders plan meet, shutdown into sixth day

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 06, 2011 12:18 PM
Minnesota leaders plan meet, shutdown into sixth day

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota's Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders plan to meet on Wednesday afternoon as a state government shutdown driven by a budget impasse reaches into a sixth day.

The governor and legislative leaders met Tuesday for the first time since they failed to reach a deal on a two-year budget that would close a $5 billion deficit before the new fiscal year started on July 1.

The state's first government shutdown is much broader in scope than a nine-day impasse in 2005 under then governor and now Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty.

After meeting on Tuesday, Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch outlined positions for reporters that were largely unchanged from before the shutdown began.

Those positions echo differences in Washington and several other states where Democrats and Republicans differ over plans to close budget gaps.

Dayton has continued to call for additional revenue to support a $35.7 billion budget, and said he would consider alternatives to his proposed income tax increase.

Republican leaders renewed a call for a temporary funding bill to end the shutdown and to wrap up work on spending bills where the two sides are close. They also said they were comfortable with their proposed $34.2 billion budget.

Both Dayton and Republican leaders acknowledged that there were policy differences yet to negotiate. Dayton singled out education and Koch the health and human services program.

Just how long the shutdown could last is unclear. Meetings are planned this week for committees working on education and health spending in addition to the leadership meeting.

An unofficial committee of budget experts formed by former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Minnesota Republican Governor Arne Carlson also plans to offer by Friday a third option for bridging the gap between the two sides.

More than 20,000 of Minnesota's 36,000 state employees have been furloughed in the shutdown, leaving numerous departments at bare-bones staffing. Dozens of road construction projects have been suspended for the shutdown as was the state lottery.

Prisons, state police patrols and nursing and veterans homes and other critical services have been maintained.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Jerry Norton)