State Reps. Murray, Poppe speak out on budget concerns

Published 9:30 am Monday, June 27, 2011

With pressure of the deadline weighing on Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican majority to come to a budget solution, local legislators are still hopeful an agreement will be reached.

Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, and Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, said members of Republican leadership are discussing ideas for raising revenue.

“I’m more hopeful than I was a few days ago just because … some of the Republicans are looking at a surcharge or other revenue sources,” Poppe said. “If they could come in and say they’re willing to increase revenue, that would be a huge step.”

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Murray said the Republicans’ main worry is overtaxing Minnesotans.

“They’re not throwing out the idea of revenue, but they’re not beating up on it like they were months ago,” Murray said. “What the Republicans don’t want to become is the highest tax state in the country. If we could look for other sources of revenue, maybe that’s a way that the governor and the leadership can come together.”

Dayton and Republican leaders planned to meet Friday and Saturday to discuss budget options, but Poppe is hoping for a solution sooner.

“If we get into next week, it gets dicey as to how much time we have left to conclude before June 30,” she said.

Most of Minnesota’s state government functions will be suspended July 1 if the governor and Legislature don’t enact a new two-year budget. It would be the state’s second shutdown in six years, and the closure would be far more extensive than the partial shutdown in 2005.

The last thing anyone wants is a government shutdown or for the budget to be resolved in a courtroom, Murray said.

“This is going to be brutal if we get to that stage,” he said. “We’re talking about a fragile economy becoming worse. If they really look at the implications of what could happen here I can’t imagine they won’t come to some resolution.”

Dayton and state lawmakers were in a courtroom Thursday, with Ramsey County Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin warning that the stalemate threatens a state constitutional crisis.

Gearin urged the two sides to keep trying to resolve their differences over raising taxes and cutting spending.

“It feels a little bit something almost like a game of chicken,” Gearin said.

Gearin repeatedly warned of the danger of the court intervening in a budget process the constitution reserves for the executive and legislative branches. The judge said the legal proceedings that would spring forth from a shutdown would present a “complex conundrum” and compared the likely fallout to the Charles Dickens novel “Bleak House,” the dark tale of a lawsuit that lasted for decades.

Gearin denied Dayton’s request to order the talks into mediation, and ruled against four GOP senators who argued that court involvement in the budget process would violate the constitutional separation of powers.

“If July 1 arrives, and there is no state appropriation, the governor will take action,” Dayton’s attorney David Lillehaug said. “He will not allow the prisons to be opened. He will not allow sex offenders to be released from supervision. He will not allow the State Patrol to be pulled over to the side of the road. He will not allow veterans homes to close.”

Former Attorney General Mike Hatch spoke about a 24-year-old Medicaid patient named Jenny Taylor, who got notice last week with almost 600,000 others that a shutdown could interrupt state-subsidized health care coverage.

“She is the face of what government is about,” Hatch said. “Jenny is what we are talking about here today.”

Murray said Minnesotans are beginning to see how much a shutdown would infiltrate all walks of life.

“When you look at that court yesterday and you see all the different groups coming in there and how (government funding) trickles down … there’s just so many things tied to the government somehow that people are really starting to say, ‘Wow, this is really going to affect everything.’”

Poppe said the looming shutdown has forced legislators to weigh the importance of Minnesotans’ values.

“I think it’s hitting home that we value certain things we don’t want to see changed or impacted or negatively dealt with,” she said. “We need to figure out what the priorities are in Minnesota, what we value and what we’re willing to spend for those values.”

“All the ideas are on the table,” Murray added. “People just have to pick up the proper pieces and put the puzzle together.”