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Local lawmakers look for budget deal details

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Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, center, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, left, and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch are seen through a window as they meet in the governor's office at the Capitol in St. Paul Thursday to discuss the state budget impasse. Former Minnesota Republican governor Arne Carlson and former Democratic vice president Walter Mondale, of Minnesota, have called a news conference for Tuesday morning to speak about the shutdown.

Local lawmakers are now assessing a budget deal made Thursday between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders to end a two-week state government shutdown.

As both Rochester Reps. Mike Benson, a Republican, and Democrat Kim Norton said today, "the devil's in the details."

Benson said he is grateful the governor and GOP-leaders came to an agreement so state employees can return to work and the government can open again.

The two-year budget deal must be voted on by lawmakers in both chambers of the Legislature and then signed by the governor. The Legislature is out of session now and the governor is the only person who can call a special session. The House and Senate could returnas early as Monday or Tuesday, and, if they approve the deal, state government could be operating again within a few days.

"It's really the governor's call. We have to agree, he has to look at all of it and then call a special session," Benson said.

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Delay in aid to schools

A proposal to raise $1.4 billion in revenue by delaying aid to school districts concerns Benson, as it does many other legislators on both sidesof the aisle because it is a one-time budget fix and not a long-term solution.

Norton agrees, saying it Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty also used the same type of strategy, which helped lead to the current budget crisis.

"You know, it's good that we have the revenue, we don't have to make $5 billion in cuts," she said. "It's a solution that I've never supported in the past. And while I've been very supportive of the governor getting to a compromise, and the Republican legislators compromising, this was not exactly the compromise that most of us had envisioned... I had hoped for a bipartisan-supported bill where we had some revenue that was ongoing."

Rep. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, also is not in favor of the shifting school aid strategy.

"I don't know, necessarily, that borrowing money to balance the budget is the right approach," Sparks said. "I'll have to see what the details are. I think it was important that (Dayton) was able to stop the additional $1.4 billion in cuts that would have happened. So, in that regard, it was a good proposal."

Why is it good now?

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, was on his way to St. Paul this morning to meet with other legislators to discuss the deal. He said he was thankful that Dayton stepped up and made an offer Thursday.

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"That's what it was going to take to get the job done. But I do question, if the deal was good yesterday, well why wasn't it good June 30? I think it begs the question," Davids said, referring to the offer Republicans made last month and Dayton rejected. Thursday's agreement is said to be very similar.

Dayton was holding out on his revenue-raising proposal to increase income taxes on the state's highest earners, but finally gave up on it Thursday. He did, however, demand that the Republicans remove policy language from their proposal and scrap their call to cut the state workforce by 15 percent.

Different strategies

Local observers of the budget impasse say the governor may have been swayed to finally accept the Republicans' offer after hearing from Minnesota citizens during a tour of the state earlier this week. However, Norton said many people she heard during Dayton's visit to Rochester asked him to hold out for "fair taxation" — his proposal to tax the wealthiest Minnesota residents.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said she is glad a budget bill is in the works, but she would prefer different revenue-raising strategies than delaying payments to school districts.

"I think that's problematic. In fact, that's why we are where we are today," Nelson said. "I think there are better ways to get that money, such as an increase in the cigarette tax. I think that would provide a better way than shifting money for schools."

Nelson said she doesn't know whether there still is time and willingness among legislators to consider alternatives, but she also would prefer the "racino" idea over delaying school aid.

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