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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

satisfy Dayton.

"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.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.