May 23 deadline quickly approaching

This week, Governor Mark Dayton admitted that his optimism for adjourning the 2011 legislative session on time, on May 23, is waning. This is disappointing to hear, but not surprising. As much as he’s tried to begin negotiations with the legislature, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate haven’t responded to his requests. This week, they ignored a May 6 deadline to send him budget bills so the two sides could begin honest discussions about how to come to a compromise. Without the legislature being willing to adhere to any deadline, it’s hard to understand how the work will be completed in the next two weeks.

Gov. Dayton announced his complete plan to solve the $5 billion deficit and balance the state’s 2012-2013 budget in February, expecting those who disagreed with his plan – Republicans in the House and Senate – to present an alternative plan shortly thereafter so negotiations could begin.

Nearly three months later, the Republican leadership has yet to agree upon a budget plan that solves the deficit. The budget bills that have been presented still fall $1 billion short of filling the hole in the state’s budget. In addition, the differences between the House and Senate ideas are vast and have yet to be resolved. Conference committees began meeting this week, many for the first time. Very few provisions were agreed to, however because the two parties cannot agree on how much money to cut from each budget.

Gov. Dayton has said many times that until this legislative budget is presented, he has nothing to negotiate with. That means lawmakers like me, who believe in a balanced budget plan similar to what Gov. Dayton has proposed, continue to wait for the other side to come to the table so real work can begin. It’s a frustrating position to be in. I have spent many months standing up for what I’ve heard are important to our communities – better and more jobs, support for schools, support for property tax relief and Local Government Aid – but I cannot continue that work until the Republicans allow the budget work to move forward.

I don’t believe it’s productive to blame one party or the other for all of our problems, and I understand it’s not helpful to read about who’s fault it might be – it’s best to read about what’s being done to fix the problem. But at this point, the only thing that can be done to fix the problem is to demand Republicans come to the table with their complete budget plan.

No one wants to return to the days when former Governor Tim Pawlenty made all the decisions by himself after the legislature adjourned – that process has since been ruled unconstitutional. Minnesotans require lawmakers from both parties to come together to work out differences, and I am very hopeful that by this point next week, I will be able to report that process has finally begun.

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Senator Rod Skoe
Rod Skoe represents District 2, which includes all or portions of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in the northwestern part of the state. He chairs the Tax Committee.

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