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Political Notebook: Budget deal up to legislative leaders, governor

ST. PAUL -- Back in 2005, when Minnesota faced a smaller government shutdown than it is enduring today, individual legislators tried to find a solution to budget problems.

They met in "rump" groups (a small part of the legislative body with no real authority) to draw up ideas about how to balance the budget.

Those rump groups failed in 2005, and apparently none even formed this year. That leaves Republican legislative leaders the only option in budget negotiations with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

"People recognize it is the governor against the leadership of the Legislature," Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, said.

The two main leaders, elected by their party caucuses, are House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo. They are the faces of GOP budget talks, and in recent days those faces have featured deep frowns as they cannot reach a deal with Dayton.

Never did the situation look as bleak as Wednesday, when Zellers proclaimed that talks "took a step backwards."

Dayton said he has talked to several moderate Republicans about finding a budget solution, but one well-known moderate has not been among them.

"I would like to know who they are..." Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, said. "The governor has not called me."

Without a budget deal, state government will remain closed.

Sen. John Howe, R-Red Wing, has been the most public non-leader to advocate for an alternative. Howe's plan to broaden the sales tax and eliminate the state income tax, however, would not bring in new revenue that Dayton wants and would do little to solve the budget impasse, Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said.

Magnus suggested that the Howe plan would be best vetted after the current budget impasse breaks and before the Legislature returns to St. Paul in January.

"You have to go through a long process" when making such a major change, and there is not time during the current budget talks, added Magnus, who sits on the Senate GOP leadership team.

Magnus said he himself is quietly working on some behind-the-scenes efforts, but thinks he is one of the few.

Saxhaug is another: "I have been down there working around the edges a little bit."

A bright idea?

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack questions whether at least one federal mandate is a bright idea.

The Minnesota Republican introduced the Rural County Mandate Relief Act that would eliminate a requirement that state and local governments' road signs must be as bright as federal standards require.

"State and local governments are still struggling under the weight of lower revenues brought on by the recent recession," Cravaack said. "Any mandate from Washington forcing municipalities to unnecessarily replace perfectly adequate street signs hurts their ability to effectively spend scarce taxpayer dollars elsewhere. State and local governments are perfectly capable of deciding when their signs need to be replaced and how best to pay for any new signs."

Overdoing shutdown?

One of the casualties of the state government shutdown is an unnamed wayside area along Otter Tail Lake.

The little park is blocked by concrete barricades "so people can't drive in there," Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, said.

"It's just a picnic area," he said, adding there is no reason the area along Minnesota 78 should be closed.

"Somebody got a little carried away with the shutdown," Nornes said.

GOP leader costs

Minnesota's Republican Party leader is being paid $100,000 a year after two years of doing the job for free.

The Star Tribune reports Chairman Tony Sutton's pay began on July 1. It is about $8,000 less than his Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party counterpart, Ken Martin, makes.

Each is different

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, the other day explained why getting things done in Minnesota government is difficult:

"Government is like a game of pool. Every time you break the balls they are in a different position."

And, he added, "Common sense tells you that politicians will argue"