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Dayton, GOP plan lock-in to negotiate budget

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Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the top two Republican legislative leaders today agreed to lock themselves in a room Friday and Saturday in a last-ditch effort to agree on a state budget.

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"We won't leave until we at least have some consensus, a framework," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Details remain to be worked out, but Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said they could remain in the room 24 hours a day.

Neither side indicated they have any plans to change where they have stood on the budget for weeks or months.

The lock-in will come as time runs out before the state budget dries up on June 30. Without a new budget in place, government should partially shut down July 1.

Zellers said he got the idea for locking themselves in a room from negotiations that led to creating a new Maple Grove hospital, when there were several competing interests.

"All areas of the budget will be discussed," Koch said.

Republicans want to negotiate one part of the budget at a time, saying they are close to agreement in areas such as transportation and education. Dayton, however, wants an overall budget target and then divide that among budget areas.

A shutdown could happen on July 1 if lawmakers and Dayton do not enact a two-year state budget. Legislators passed a Republican-written budget in the final days of the regular legislative session, but Dayton vetoed the package after lawmakers adjourned on the final day they were allowed to meet.

Dayton wants to spend $35.8 billion, fueled in part by a tax increase, in the next two years. Republicans say they will not approve a budget more than $34 billion.

The lock-in announcement came after an hour-long meeting among only Zellers, Koch and Dayton, without staff. The Friday and Saturday meeting also are to be without staff, unless the trio needs to consult a financial expert.

The top policymakers' meeting came minutes after city leaders told reporters that their citizens will see public safety cuts if Local Government Aid and other state payments stop during a shutdown.

On Wednesday, they asked a court to keep those payments coming.

Earlier Wednesday, the governor said a Republican budget lawmakers passed would throw 140,000 Minnesotans of state-funded health-care programs, take away $370 in aid for each special education students and force tuition to rise as much as 12 percent. Dayton said he cannot live with that and would rather endure a shutdown.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, responded that a shutdown is entirely on Dayton's shoulders since he is the only person who can call the Legislature into a special session to pass a budget. Michel said the GOP and Dayton have agreed on about half of the budget, although Dayton and DFL legislative leaders deny that.

This morning's exchange included no new information, but was more emotional and pointed than in the past. And it comes barely more than a week before the government could shut down.

Dayton has been meeting about the budget behind closed doors with key Democrats.

"He is firming up what he wants in a final package," Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said after leaving Dayton's office.

Stumpf, a top education Democrat, said that Dayton is meeting with lawmakers expert in individual budget areas in a final push for a budget.

In the meantime, Dayton and Attorney General Lori Swanson say they want a petition filed by four Republican senators claiming the courts have no say in funding state programs during a government shutdown to be tossed out of court.

Dayton's attorney filed a court document this morning saying the senators have taken "diametrically opposed positions on the most fundamental constitutional issues," and asks the Minnesota Supreme Court to dismiss the case. The governor's response joins that of Attorney General Lori Swanson, a fellow Democrat, in asking that the case go away.

The Supreme Court today dismissed a petition by GOP Sens. Scott Newman of Hutchinson, Warren Limmer of Maple Grove, Sean Nienow of Cambridge and Roger Chamberlain of Shoreview, who asked that the high court rule that the state Constitution gives full authority to spend money to the Legislature, so if a new budget is not enacted by July 1, the courts should have no say in whether any state programs get money.

A Thursday morning court hearing is planned as Swanson, Dayton and a growing number of state-funded organizations ask a judge to establish a process to continue state funding even without a budget.

In order to keep what they consider essential services going after the current budget expires, Swanson and Dayton want court approval for things ranging from providing law enforcement to keeping the governor's official residence operating. Dayton presented a list of services he suggests staying open, with more than a third of the executive branch's employees retaining their jobs.

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