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Editorial: How to avoid stalemate and shutdown in Minnesota

In Minnesota, the outline of a Grand Plan is coming into view. It shows a way forward on the three big budget divides that are threatening yet another government shutdown.

The divides are taxes, education and transportation. And the way forward is this: Gov. Mark Dayton yields on education; Republicans in the Legislature yield on transportation; and the two sides split the difference on taxes.

▇ "Both parties are divided on how much to spend, particularly on Dayton's proposal to add $175 million to expand prekindergarten programs," the Star Tribune summarized this week.

"Republicans want to cut that program and instead spend a smaller amount on need-based scholarships that could be used for private preschools."

The trouble with Dayton's proposal is that it's needlessly generous. It lets all willing districts provide Pre-K, tuition-free.

But rich Minnesotans have zero need for that service. Why spend millions to give it to them?

Far better to accept the Republicans' proposal, which targets the new spending at low-income households. That gets the money to the families and children who need it most.

The GOP proposal has been described as an olive branch. The description is a good one, and Dayton should accept the gesture.

▇ Then, in return, Dayton should insist that the Republicans move much closer to his own transit and transportation plans.

He'd be in good company. Because Minnesota's business leadership wants the GOP to move in that direction as well.

First, the Strib's summary of the dispute: "Though both Dayton and Republican leaders say they are nearing agreement on transportation spending, they remain divided over their priorities. GOP lawmakers have targeted transit funding and projects, while DFLers are looking to balance transit with money for roads and bridges."

Now, here's the key: The Minnesota Chamber supports taking the target off of transit's back. The Minnesota Business Partnership—more than 120 CEOs and senior executives from Minnesota's largest employers—feels the same way.

Both organizations also support the plan to extend the Twin Cities' light-rail system to southwest Minneapolis.

Republicans in the Legislature should climb aboard.

▇ On to taxes. "Republicans want to use most of the state's $1.65 billion surplus on more than $1 billion in new tax cuts and credits. Dayton's plan calls for $280 million in new tax breaks," the Star Tribune summarized.

If Dayton and the Republicans can get to "yes" on education and transportation, then taxes should be an easy call. Point 1 is that the boundaries of the debate are set by the size of the state's surplus. Point 2 is the fact that neither side has the power to get everything it wants.

So for tax cuts, the obvious thing to do is meet in the middle. That would be somewhere near the $640 billion mark, or halfway between the two sides' positions.

And how pleased Minnesotans would be to see compromise, not conflict, rule the day.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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