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Minnesota House leader hopeful government shutdown can be prevented

Minnesota House Majority Leader Matt Dean.

There's still a $2 billion difference between their budget proposals, but House Majority Leader Matt Dean said Tuesday that Minnesota's Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton are "moving in the right direction" to prevent a government shutdown.

Senate and House Republican leaders met with Dayton on Monday to bump up their proposals for "kids, courts and cops" -- boosting their budget by $110 million to match the governor's spending requests for public safety and K-12 education.

"We're coming to his number on about half the budget in an attempt to try to resolve the differences and prevent a government shutdown and reach compromise in the areas that we immediately can," said Dean as he travels across northern Minnesota this week to discuss lawmakers' work to break the political gridlock.

While the offer takes a good chunk of the budget differences "off the table," he said there's not much time to reach agreement on the other half of the next two-year spending package -- which will need to be in place by June 30.

Finding 'common ground'

Republican lawmakers approved several budget bills during the session, which ended late last month. But Dayton vetoed the bills and said they'll have to include new revenues in their plan in order to break the stalemate.

Another issue is the overall size of the budget: Dayton's plan would spend about $36 billion over the next two years, while Republicans want to keep government spending below $34 billion.

Dean said their agreement this week to match some of Dayton's funding proposals was a "substantial move" to get closer to a final agreement.

"I think the offer on the table is a big deal," he said. "It's not the final offer by any means, and we're going to keep talking and keep negotiating, but it's a step in the right direction."

Dayton told the Star Tribune that the Republican deal was a "meaningful offer," but said there's still a "huge gulf between us" and said he won't sign a budget until they agree on the total amount of spending for the next two years.

Dean said Republican leaders will continue their work to find middle ground with the governor to avoid a shutdown, which he said would be "terrible" for the morale of state agencies, "bad" for the Legislature and most affect hourly workers who are at risk of losing their paychecks while the next budget details are hashed out.

"But it's really bad for the governor because in East Grand Forks nobody knows who Matt Dean is, but everybody knows who Mark Dayton is," he said. "And when the government shuts down, they blame the governor."

Dean said he expects there will be several offers back and forth between GOP leadership and the governor this month as they try to resolve the stalemate and avoid a government shutdown.

Once an agreement is in place, Dayton will need to call a special session and work out final details before the budget can be passed.

There are some issues that the two sides are philosophically split on -- Dean said Dayton is "very strongly" pro-choice, for example, while the vast majority of Republican lawmakers are pro-life.

"There's probably not a lot of middle ground on many of those issues," he said. "There are, however, issues where we can find common ground on spending and on education reform."

And Dean said Republicans are hopeful they can work with Dayton to tweak spending plans and revenue proposals to come to an agreement before the end of the month.

"We have no interest in a shutdown; we want to prevent one," he said. "It's absolutely unacceptable and completely avoidable and unnecessary and so that's what we're going to work to prevent."

Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to Follow him on Twitter: @JohnsonReports.