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Left-out lawmakers try to accomplish what legislative leaders can't
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House Speaker Steve Sviggum, left, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, right, meet with reporters after a joint appearance on the MPR program Midday. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
A partial state government shutdown entered its fifth day on Tuesday, with no sign of an immediate resolution. Minnesota lawmakers returned to the Capitol after hearing from their constituents over the 4th of July weekend. Some say voters are mad at the Legislature, and may blame all state leaders.

St. Paul, Minn. — Republican Sen. Paul Koering says he's embarrassed to be a legislator right now. The freshman senator from Fort Ripley says the partial government shutdown reflects badly on all state leaders. Koering was in four parades over the weekend, and says people in his district don't understand the stalemate.

"They're just mad at all 201 legislators; they're mad at the governor, they're just wondering why we can't, as adults, get along and just get the work done. That's all they want. Just get it done," he said Tuesday.

Koering says because of the shutdown, one of the largest construction companies in his district can't get permits to move their heavy equipment. When he called MnDOT to check on the problem, he got a recorded message that no one was available to return his call.

"I feel helpless. I just drove all the way down here, thinking that something was going to be accomplished, now we're adjourned 'til Thursday," he said.

Other lawmakers who feel helpless about the lack of progress in budget talks are trying to take matters into their own hands.

Two different groups of legislators have been meeting to try to come up with a budget deal. DFL Rep. Maria Ruud of Minnetonka has sat in on some of the meetings. The first-term lawmaker says she campaigned on a message of finding common ground.

"You fight as hard as you can, that's what we're supposed to do, that's what both sides are supposed to do. But at the end of the day, people expect compromise on both sides," Ruud said.

That also means many lawmakers may have to swallow items they don't like in any final budget agreement. One group of lawmakers trying to come up with a deal is talking about raising money from a racino at Canterbury Park, a proposal that has divided lawmakers. Other controversial revenue sources include cigarette taxes and money from closing corporate tax loopholes.

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, says the "rump group" he's part of hasn't reached consensus on either how to raise revenues or how much is enough.

"Nothing is unanimous. There's kind of a "eight is enough" group that I consider myself in, which is a 8-percent increase should be enough to live on. And there's some people that think we do need additional revenues, and that some of those should come from racino. And then there's another group that believe we need additional revenues, and that that come from tobacco," Dean said.

Dean signed a no-tax-increase pledge, and doesn't support a cigarette tax increase. Still, he says he would consider Gov. Pawlenty's proposed "health impact fee" as part of a compromise to end the stalemate.

Another lawmaker who's been at the rump group meetings, DFL Sen. Chuck Wiger of North St. Paul, says both sides should split the difference on the budget, and save controversial issues for another day.

"Ninety percent of the legislators are willing to accept most any reasonable proposal at this point, putting aside any particular issue that they're pushing for in their own district," Wiger said.

Meanwhile, top legislators set twin goals Tuesday of completing the state budget by the weekend and getting 9,000 locked-out employees back at their posts even sooner.

"My hope and prayer is that by week's end you will not be able to see 201 state legislators because of the dust of us heading toward home," said Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar.

Johnson met privately with Pawlenty's senior aides, Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum and other legislative leaders. While they didn't reach a deal, Johnson and Sviggum expressed a determination to forge one by midnight Wednesday.

They say the next major deadline is July 15, when thousands of state workers won't get a paycheck if there's no budget deal.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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