House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said this morning an agreement between lawmakers would probably have to come today or Friday in order to avert a statewide government shutdown. When pressed for a prediction, he speculated a shutdown would not have to be implemented.
Senate President Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, said today the chances of averting a shutdown are probably 50-50. He termed the situation as especially precarious.
Both lawmakers said their sides have made considerable concessions and have worked hard to avoid the shutdown of services, a potential development Sviggum termed as "absolute chaos." They both blamed the three-party configuration of political power for making negotiations more difficult. Still, both politicians spoke of the need to stand up for certain political principles.
Sviggum said the results of a shutdown would be disastrous for all involved and would adversely affect the lives of many people.
"The House Republicans have been willing to cooperate and compromise many, many, many times," he said. "We've reached out substantially."
House concessions, he said, have involved increasing the statewide levy for business and commercial and industrial taxes, targeted tax credit for homeowners and addressing concerns of the Iron Range regarding taconite issues.
Samuelson said the differences between the House and Senate positions on the major tax and spending bills are down to a very narrow scope. The Senate side has made nine or 10 counteroffers and has agreed to 85 or 95 percent of the issues regarding classification of property taxes.
"I don't know how much farther our side can go," he said.
The differences, Samuelson said, boil down to how to protect rural Minnesota from what DFLers see as a shift in tax burden from high-value property owners and businesses to the owners of low- and moderate-value homes; how to beef up local government aid for cities; and how to protect K-12 education as the state takes over the education levy.
Senate DFLers have asked Gov. Jesse Ventura to place in writing his opposition to two Senate education funding proposals in an effort to get Ventura's position on the record.
Samuelson, a member of the conference committee on tax reform, said his panel has met two or three times a day recently.
"We're going to continue to work on a compromise," Samuelson said. "We want reform on property taxes as much as anybody. We've agreed to 90 percent of it."
Sviggum said the Senate has failed to live up to its end of the May 25 agreement. The agreement, Sviggum said, calls for real property tax reforms, not just temporary buy-downs and would result in substantial tax reductions for all categories. Senate talk of a future increased burden for low- and moderate-value homes is based on hypothetical situations. In addition, Sviggum said, the property tax reform would institute a more direct link between services provided and taxes paid.
Would citizens be justified in terming this legislative session a failure if the government is shut down?
Samuelson said that characterization would be legitimate but noted that lawmakers tackled major projects this year. The issues he's fighting for, he said, are important enough to justify a government shutdown.
"At this point, that's where I stand," Samuelson said. "Let the chips fall where they may. You don't feel when you're here, that's your job (to capitulate). Your job is to do the best you can for the people you represent."
Sviggum said that some might term this session a failure if there's a government shutdown. He said there is another side of that issue since lawmakers are standing up for values they believe in.
"Sometimes we hear, as politicians, that we don't stand for anything," he said. "It depends on which criticism you're hearing at which time."
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