Lawmaker's secret lunch with Dayton paved way for budget deal
ST. PAUL -- A pair of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, with chips on
the side, may have been just what the budget doctor ordered.
That was the menu for a secret 45-minute Monday lunch at St. Cloud's
Jules Bistro between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Rep. Larry Howes,
R-Walker. Their meeting may have laid the groundwork for a state budget
deal framework announced Thursday evening.
"We talked about things that he could offer that we (Republicans) would
not just immediately reject," the northern Minnesota lawmaker said in an
Howes said he could not take credit for the offer Dayton made on
Thursday, which was based on a June 30 GOP offer, but the veteran
lawmaker would be a key if it moves forward.
Howes is chairman of the House committee that funds public works
construction projects, such as fixing state building roofs and building
flood-protection structures. So he and Dayton spend time over the ham
and cheese talking bonding, the method of funding construction projects.
Howes has kept a bonding bill handy since the beginning of the
legislative session and altered it in recent days in an attempt to
"I took some things out, reduced some things, added some things," Howes
said. "It still is basically his bill."
Originally, Dayton proposed about $500 million in projects and asked
legislators to add a like amount.
In discussing the budget framework, Dayton and Republican leaders left
it unclear whether a bonding bill was a definite part of the agreement.
"I'm hoping we can work out a bonding bill," Dayton said, adding that
the public works bill is not essential for the overall budget agreement
to go forward.
Dayton said he would work with Democrats to help provide enough votes
since a bonding bill requires more votes than there are Republicans.
Howes said he crafted the bill so the bill could get needed Democratic
votes. "I strongly believe I put it together so that the Democrats will
think it is fair."
The bill will have funding for flood-prevention efforts statewide, but
especially in the Red River Valley. However, Howes said, as it stands
now it does not contain tornado relief for Wadena or Minneapolis.
Howes, who said his talk with Dayton went well beyond bonding, was happy
"I am pleased with the offer he made," Howes said.
Howes said he told House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, he was
going to meet with Dayton and afterwards briefed him on some of their
"The speaker has given me a long leash," Howes said.
The Howes-Dayton summit came after Dayton had met with other moderate
Republicans. Dayton's office called Howes on Monday to set up the
Tuesday lunch, with no staff members or anyone else present.
Since both ordered the same lunch, "the waitress thought we already had
compromised," Howes said.
But, Howes noted, some compromise was left because Dayton drank Diet
Coke while he sipped coffee.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.