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Lawmakers analyze standoff

As Minnesota’s midnight deadline to avoid a government shutdown approached, area lawmakers offered different perspectives as to what might happen and who’s to blame.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, was in Brainerd late Thursday afternoon but said he was ready to drive to St. Paul if Gov. Mark Dayton called a special session Thursday. The sticking points of the negotiations between Dayton and Republican legislative leaders, in Ward’s view, is the choice between what he termed an all-cuts or a balanced proposal.

Ward said he shared the frustration and disappointment that’s felt by citizens with a possible shutdown. The retired teacher said he has always campaigned on a solution that includes revenue, cuts, reform and redesign and shifts.

“I’m working as hard as I can and listening to everybody, trying to represent all my constituents, based on the correct way to do things,” he said. “I believe in a balanced approach.”

Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, was in St. Paul Thursday night and described himself as ready to get a deal worked out and voted on.

“I believe we did our job when we passed our balanced budget (which Dayton vetoed),” LeMieur said. “He (Dayton) wants a tax increase and he’s willing to shut down the government to get  a tax increase.”

LeMieur said he thought health and human services issues were a sticking point along with Dayton’s insistence on a global agreement rather than piecemeal solutions.

Rep. Larry Howes, who spent his 64th birthday talking over scenarios with other House members at the Capitol, said he would welcome a lights-on bill that would keep the government functioning at the current level. 

“Everything does come to an end,” Howes said. 

He said he believed health and human services were the issues that were preventing a quick agreement.

“I don’t think we’re that far apart,” Howes said, “if he (Dayton) were to move off income tax (increases) and look at other revenue enhancers.”

Howes said he was opposed to an expansion of gambling but could favor a nickel-a-beer fee or the closing of particular tax loopholes.

“I campaigned on a promise not to raise the income tax,” he said. “I never promised I wouldn’t raise fees.”

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, said he believed the governor and Republican leaders have been building trust through the negotiation process.

“I don’t know if there close or not close,” he said Thursday afternoon.

As the clock neared 5 p.m. he expressed disappointment that people had to be displaced from state parks and rest centers were closed already. 

If the governor and legislative leaders reached an overall agreement it could be presented to the various caucuses for a nose count and then the Legislature could pass a lights-on bill until the major spending bills could be passed.

He said Republican-passed spending bills within a few million of what was spent in 2009-2010 and worked to prevent the “train wreck of spending” that was taking place.

Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, who was in St. Paul, said the two parties were close on many if not all of the bills. He suggested passing spending bills even if there was not 100 percent agreement on everything in order to avoid a massive shutdown.

“I think the amount we’re going to spend has been an issue,” Gazelka said. “The Republican side doesn’t want to spend more than $34.2 billion. The governor has asked for larger revenue. Republicans have also pushed for reforms such as five-year contracts for teachers instead of lifetime tenure, a 60-day waiting period to get welfare, and opening up the government to suggestion from the private sector on how to save money.

He said it was an appropriate feeling for people to be frustrated at the prospect of a shutdown.

“I think all sides would prefer to avoid a shutdown,” he said.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.