Dayton seeks no-shutdown pledge in State of State

Published 2:10 pm Wednesday, February 9, 2011

ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton pushed state lawmakers Wednesday for a firm commitment they won’t let a budget fight reach the point of a government shutdown.

Addressing the Legislature in his first State of the State address, Dayton looked ahead to the budget endgame just as the actual debate is about to heat up. Dayton lays out his two-year budget proposal next week.

“I ask you, legislators; I invite you; I implore you — to join with me now, right here in our Capitol and pledge to the people of Minnesota that we will not shut down their government, our government,” Dayton said.

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If state leaders can’t reach a deal prior to July 1, parts of government would be temporarily shuttered. Dayton calls that option “absolutely unthinkable.” It happened in Minnesota six years ago during a budget standoff.

The direct challenge from Dayton, a Democrat, recognizes his disagreement with the Republican-controlled Legislature over the need for tax increases to help plug a $6.2 billion shortfall.

Dayton repeated that he plans to seek a new top-end income tax, an approach the GOP opposes. He withheld details about who would be hit by the proposed tax or how high it would be.

“Some will criticize me for proposing next week to ask those successful businessmen and women and wealthy Minnesotans to pay higher taxes,” Dayton said. “I ask them for their forbearance during this fiscal crisis, which I did not create, but inherited, and now, with you in the Legislature, must solve.”

Dayton said the alternative would be “savaging essential public services.” He tried to make the case that Minnesota has slipped as it has lurched from budget crisis to budget crisis.

He said school districts have shifted to four-day weeks to save money, more roads are in poor and mediocre condition and employment growth has lagged the nation.

Dayton said his budget proposal will request increased state aid for public education, including money to make all-day kindergarten an option for every child. He said he will ask lawmakers to create a special transportation authority to pursue new public and private financing of road construction. And he put in another pitch for his $1 billion push for state-backed construction using long-term bonds.

Despite Dayton’s call for unity in addressing Minnesota’s budget problems, there are ample signs of discord.

Hours after Dayton’s speech, GOP leaders in the House planned a final vote on a $900 million package of budget cuts. A bill could reach Dayton by week’s end, which could provoke his first veto. Dayton has criticized the content of the bill and said it doesn’t give a fuller picture on how Republicans will deal with the entire problem.

In seeking his no-shutdown pledge, Dayton noted that a legislative committee has already started looking into the effects of one. He said lawmakers have 103 days to avoid one, a calendar that takes the Legislature to its May 23 adjournment deadline.

“The challenges we face threaten to divide us, rather than bring us together,” he said. “Partisan posturing and narrow agendas threaten to overwhelm bipartisan cooperation and compromise.

In 2005, Minnesota endured a partial shutdown that lasted about a week. Employees were furloughed and state services were curtailed, ranging from delays in driver’s license applications to a halt in job counseling to barricaded highway rest stops.

Essential services, such as the State Patrol and some health and welfare programs, continued operating under court order.

Republican operatives mocked Dayton on Twitter, noting that as a U.S. senator he briefly closed his office in Washington amid terrorism concerns.