Budget Mediation: An Idea Whose Time Has Not Yet Come

Like many states, Minnesota is facing a budget crisis. Its Democratic Governor, Mark Dayton, and the Republican legislature cannot agree on a budget; they face a government shut-down as of July 1. Dayton recently suggested that the sides engage a mediator—or two mediators, one selected by each side—to help broker a deal. This seems to be a novel idea. A fiscal analyst for the National Conference of State Legislatures is quoted as saying he could not recall any state using a third-party mediator to help settle a budget dispute. And it looks like this won’t be the first, as the Republicans immediately rejected the idea, with House Speaker Kurt Zellers declaring, “It is our time to step up and to lead and to do the job that we were elected to do.”

That is a pretty typical first reaction to a suggestion of mediation. People who have an image of themselves as good/tough/strong negotiators often resist the idea that they need help to resolve a dispute. Zellers may yet be proved right—they may reach an agreement before July 1. But there are an awful lot of people whose lives will be disrupted if turns out he is wrong.

2 thoughts on “Budget Mediation: An Idea Whose Time Has Not Yet Come”

  1. For the last 4 years, Lincoln, NE has used trained third parties to facilitate round-table discussions between Lincoln citizens and members of the Mayor’s office to discuss the yearly budget and proposed cuts. The purpose is to get citizen input on what kinds of programs to keep and which to cut, such as making decisions between cutting an underutilized fire station or an older library, etc., etc.

    The process involves two steps. First, the Mayor’s website contains a survey of different potential cuts and asks citizens questions about them. The second phase involves actual round-table discussions between citizens and representatives of the mayor’s office. The in-person discussions involve between 8-10 people and a facilitator.

    The citizens certainly do not hold the power to make decisions about the budget, but the program has been successful and continued now for four year.

    The in-person discussions will be occurring in about 10 days, and I volunteered to be a facilitator. I’m very much looking forward to the experience.

    Also, the program is grant funded.

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