MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota's Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton offered major concessions Thursday in a bid to end a government shutdown, dropping his pursuit of tax hikes to say he was willing to accept a Republican offer made just before the state closed for business two weeks ago.
Dayton attached significant conditions to his offer. He said Republicans must drop a list of policy changes and a plan to reduce the state workforce by 15 percent. In exchange, he would sign off on a Republican proposal that would raise $1.4 billion, half by delaying state aid checks to school districts and the other half by selling tobacco payment bonds.
"I believe this is the best option for Minnesota," a weary-sounding Dayton said after announcing his offer in a speech at the University of Minnesota. "I know in my soul that I am doing what I believe."
Aides said GOP leaders were reviewing Dayton's offer and had no immediate comment. The governor said he had invited them to meet Thursday afternoon, but no meeting was set.
If the Republicans agree to Dayton's proposal and the pieces fall into place, the first-term governor said he is prepared to call a special session within three days.
The Minnesota impasse was months in the making, with Dayton insisting on raising income taxes on the highest earners to soften the effect of budget cuts necessary to resolve a $5 billion deficit. More recently, Dayton had offered to consider an array of other ways to raise revenue, including cigarette and alcohol taxes and a broader sales tax.
As the shutdown persisted, the pressure for a resolution has intensified.
The partisan standoff has closed state parks and rest stops, prevented many people from getting licenses they need to launch careers or move ahead with businesses, and cut off funding streams to countless social service programs. It has also cost the state millions in preparation costs and lost revenue.
Dayton has been on the road this week, holding public events around the state, and said he received a clear message from the people he met: End the shutdown.
"They want this resolved and they don't even care how. I care how," Dayton told a University of Minnesota audience in Minneapolis.
Dayton said he is reluctant to accept the Republicans' way out of the budget impasse.
"Despite my serious reservations about your plan, I have concluded that continuing the state government shutdown would be even more destructive for too many Minnesotans," he said in a letter to GOP leaders that he read aloud. "Therefore, I am willing to agree to something I do not agree with — your proposal — in order to spare our citizens and our state from further damage."
Dayton is also asking lawmakers to approve a construction projects bill totaling at least $500 million.
Lohn reported from St. Paul.
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