Governor’s compromise goes unanswered; special session likely

The 2011 legislative session ended on Monday night without an agreement on how to solve the state’s $5 billion budget deficit. I am very disappointed in what I believe is an unacceptable outcome for the state of Minnesota.

Republicans and Democrats began this session united in a goal to focus on the budget and jobs. We may have disagreed on how to address those goals, but we agreed to have a laser-focus on those priorities.

Just five months later, Republican leadership allowed divisive social issues to overtake the focus on financial issues. In just the past two weeks, we spent hours debating marriage amendments, gun rights and other issues that have no bearing on the state’s budget, and almost no time negotiating with the Governor on a way to end the session on time. Republicans haven’t even passed many basic, non-controversial bills that help keep state agencies functioning – one of the core responsibilities of government that Democratic leaders always made sure to complete when we were leading the Senate.

The legislative session always includes opposing viewpoints, and it’s expected that each side will pass bills that reflect their differing priorities. This year, that happened in February and March, when Republicans responded to Governor Dayton’s proposal to solve the budget with a balance of cuts and revenue by passing their own budget bills that relied solely on drastic cuts.

I opposed these budget bills because the spending reductions they included were far too damaging to the state, but I also understood this was their party’s chance to show Minnesotans what they would do if they were in charge. The fact is, no party is ever in charge and the day for compromise always comes – Republicans and Democrats sit down, talk about their differences, and find a way to respond to all citizens of Minnesota. That never happened this year.

The bills passed by Republicans languished in conference committee for six weeks with virtually no action. Governor Dayton asked for their budget plan to be presented by May 6; that deadline was ignored. The following week, those committees rushed through a few hours of hearings to finalize their budgets with very little opportunity for public input.

One week before the end of the legislative session, Gov. Dayton made a huge effort at compromise. He offered to cut his proposal to raise new revenue in half, agreeing to fill the gap with a higher level of spending cuts that Republicans were advocating for. It was a reasonable offer that was the very definition of compromise: Half way between the two beliefs. Rather than accepting this compromise – or even agreeing to consider it – the Republican leaders crossed their arms and refused to discuss the idea.

Instead, they forged ahead with their devastating budget bills that did nothing to address the Governor’s concerns. They sent them to the Governor’s desk and spent the remaining few days of the legislative session debating issues that had nothing to do with the budget deficit, or with creating jobs.

The people of Minnesota sent us here to accomplish our work responsibly and on time. I am disappointed that we were not able to finish on time, but I am very hopeful that we still will be able to deliver a responsible solution.

Governor Dayton’s compromise proposal is the right path for Minnesota: It makes necessary spending cuts while also raising enough new revenue to protect our most vital services, such as education, health care access and affordability, and safe and updated transportation. I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues to reach a solution that upholds these important priorities so that we can reach a budget solution as soon as possible.

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Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey represents District 11, which includes portions of Carlton, Kanabec, Pine and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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