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Minnesota Budget Talks To Resume

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Talks were scheduled to resume Tuesday afternoon over a state government shutdown in Minnesota, where a deficit crunch has Democrats talking about raising taxes on the wealthy and Republicans insisting on spending cuts.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and the GOP-controlled legislature have been at odds since they were sworn in early this year. Talks broke down Thursday night, triggering the shutdown.

Republicans want to limit state spending to $34 billion, the amount the state is expected to bring in over the next two years, while Dayton wants to raise income taxes on Minnesotans who make more than $1 million a year. That can raise $1.8 billion that Dayton says is needed to keep up with growing demand for state services and prevent cuts to social programs.

Dayton told Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday that wants to solve the four-day shutdown in the state by getting both sides in a room to “force everyone to a resolution.”

While the state’s essential employees, such as health care workers and prison guards, are being retained, some 20,000 “non-essential” workers are at least temporarily out of a job. That makes them eligible for unemployment, which will cost the state more money.

Parks are closed and vendors that do business with the state are also feeling the heat.

Over the weekend, some of the state’s residents vented their anger over the impasse on state legislators who marched at July 4th parades.

Some parade-goers shouted “Get back to work” and “End the shutdown” to lawmakers. But others offered equally vociferous words of support.

Rachel Stassen-Berger, a reporter who covers state politics for The StarTribune of Minneapolis, told NPR that the atmosphere “feels a lot like the final days of a very heated campaign, where everyone is just putting their emotions out there and being as nasty as they can possibly be.”

She said the two sides were in “the murky stages of negotiations.”

“When they go back in there today, it’s unclear if they start from zero ... or (if) some of the progress they’ve made in the last week will hold,” Stassen-Berger said.

So far, the rival parties have displayed more brinkmanship than compromise, but in reality the two sides aren’t that far apart, said Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carlton College in Northfield, Minn.

“They could reach a compromise sometime this month,” he told NPR, adding that while hard-line conservatives and liberals complicate the negotiations, eventually a deal will be reached – even if it is just temporary.

Schier points to the budget deal reached in 2005 between then-governor, and now Republican presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty. Funding was approved for the big things, but fights over money for smaller state agencies and public schools was simply kicked down the road.

Andrew Karch, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota, said compromise might prove a bitter pill for the two sides, which have pledged to their constituencies to stand firm.

“I think that both sides are pretty dug in and this could last awhile,” he told NPR. But Karch also notes that the two sides seemed “fairly close on a number of things toward the middle of last week.” That was just before negotiations imploded.

“I think both sides at this stage are quite unified and don’t seem willing to budge,” he said.

“But there are a handful of moderates in both parties” that could be the key to a deal, he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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