Minnesota leaders meet on education plan, shutdown in 7th day

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 07, 2011 11:54 AM
Minnesota leaders meet on education plan, shutdown in 7th day

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders were meeting on Thursday over the education budget as a broad state government shutdown began its seventh day with no end in sight.

The Democratic governor, House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch met briefly Wednesday, with Dayton offering two tax proposals to end the budget impasse, which the Republican leaders rejected as a step backward.

Minnesota state government has been shut down since Friday, when the political adversaries failed to reach a budget deal before the new fiscal year began.

The public positions by Minnesota's leaders have echoed differences in Washington and several other states. But Minnesota is the only state where the government shut down.

The leaders had previously scheduled Thursday's meeting to discuss elementary and secondary school reform issues. Dayton was not expected to address reporters afterward.

Before the shutdown began, Dayton and Republican leaders had imposed a "cone of silence" over budget details under negotiation. That has ended since talks resumed on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Dayton released details on two options he proposed to close a roughly $1.4 billion gap between his budget proposal and the $34.2 billion plan Republicans have proposed.

Dayton offered proposals for either a temporary income tax increase on people making more than $1 million per year or a $1 per pack tobacco tax increase along with healthcare surcharges and a delay in school aid payments.

Republican leaders said a tax increase of any kind was off the table. Both sides also have acknowledged they have policy differences to negotiate in the education and health programs.

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

More than 20,000 of Minnesota's 36,000 state employees have been furloughed in the shutdown, leaving sparse staffing at several departments. Dozens of state funded road construction projects have been suspended as was the state lottery.

In the case of the state Department of Natural Resources, for example, state parks lose $1 million per week in revenue from visitors, and fishing license sales have been suspended, putting pressure on resorts and outfitters as well.

State parks, closed at night during the shutdown, also have reported mostly minor but widespread damage, from graffiti to broken locks and gates.

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

(Reporting by David Bailey in Minneapolis, Andy Greder in Pine City, Minnesota, and Andrew Stern in Chicago; Editing by Jerry Norton)