Lillie remains optimistic in face of shutdown
Ted Lillie has had a unique vantage point from which to consider the state's current budget dilemma.
For weeks now, the state senator from Lake Elmo has been among the select few chosen to negotiate a budget deal with Gov. Mark Dayton. He and fellow Republican legislative leaders must strike a deal with the Democratic governor by June 30 in order to avoid a government shutdown.
The parties have offered concessions, though a deal appears no closer than it did when the Legislature adjourned May 23.
"They both feel they have given as much as they can," Lillie said last week, describing the feelings being exhibited on both sides of the bargaining table.
Dayton wants to raise taxes on the state's wealthiest 2 percent; Republicans are refusing to budge on tax increases.
Dayton and GOP lawmakers disagree on many components of the budget, including spending levels, where the governor seeks to spend nearly $2 billion more.
Blame will be shared if the stalemate leads to a government shutdown, Lillie said.
"They're going to blame everybody, and rightly so," he said.
Lillie argued that Dayton is the one who can put an end to the impasse.
"Ultimately, the governor is the one who controls the cards here," he said.
Dayton has been very "direct" during negotiations, but not confrontational. Still, "We both get very frustrated at times," Lillie said.
Despite the lack of progress, Lillie said he remains optimistic that a resolution can be reached. Republicans last week offered to meet Dayton's funding levels for education and public safety, bringing their spending ceiling up more than $100 million.
"We've met the governor in the middle," Lillie said.
Dayton said Republicans need to come farther, however.
"It's going to be a question of whether they're willing to reach out on the revenue side as well as the spending side," he told Capitol reporters last week.
Lillie's presence at the bargaining table represents an unusual occurrence: Capitol insiders say it's rare to have a freshman picked for high-level negotiations.
"I don't know it's ever been done before," Lillie said.
It's not uncommon for freshman legislators - even those in the majority - to complain that they're in the dark about high-level developments that usually occur behind closed doors.
Lillie isn't making those claims. He said he was picked to be part of the talks because of his experience in union negotiations in the private sector prior to his coming into office.
"I'm a bit of a catalyst in conversations," Lillie said, adding that he tends to work the middle ground in negotiations. "The governor said he appreciates having me in the room."