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m2176 BC-MN-XGR-Legislature-B 05-17 0536

Talks intensify as adjournment deadline creeps closer

Eds: PMs.

By BRIAN BAKST

Associated Press Writers

ST. PAUL (AP) — After a day of off-and-on negotiations, top Minnesota lawmakers hoped talks Thursday would produce the breakthrough on the state budget needed to bring the 2007 session to a close on time and avoid another special session.

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Few firm details trickled out of the closed-door discussions. But the fact Gov. Tim Pawlenty and leading legislators were holed up for several hours was seen as a sign of progress, partly because it meant a break from the public sparring.

"It’s a little like making hot dish. We’re trying to get all the ingredients in there. There are some we like and some we don’t," Rochester’s David Senjem, the leader of minority Senate Republicans, said during one break. "The tone, the tenor I think is good, and that’s what’s important."

Since the session opened in January, Democrats and Republicans have been at odds over the amount of money the state should spend and where to put it.

The final two-year state budget will be in the neighborhood of $35 billion. Lawmakers are weighing how much of that pie to devote to schools, health care for the poor, college financial aid and other government programs.

The Legislature has until midnight Monday to complete its work. If lawmakers blow that constitutional deadline, it would lead to the fifth special session since 2001.

Emerging from Pawlenty’s office just as Wednesday melted into Thursday, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, pronounced the meetings productive but would say little else.

"There may be some long hours ahead yet," she cautioned.

The House delayed action on a slate of budget bills that cleared the Senate on Wednesday.

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Majority Senate Democrats muscled through the package in five parts, drawing some votes from Republicans in the process. But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said DFL leaders agreed to pull those bills back and work out bills Pawlenty would sign. The governor had vetoed an earlier round of DFL budget plans and said he wouldn’t hesitate to block another set if lawmakers ignored his priorities.

Seifert said Wednesday’s talks were aimed at "prioritizing needs versus wants."

It’s unusual for lawmakers to reach the session’s stretch run without a broad budget framework to guide them.

Pawlenty has insisted that the budget be built using projected tax collections under current law. State finance officials said in February that the treasury would run a $2.1 billion surplus, but Democrats note that at least half of that money would be chewed up by inflationary increases in existing programs and another big chunk is considered one-time revenue.

To offset extra school spending and homeowner property tax breaks, the House and Senate approved bills that would raise income taxes on top earners and eliminate tax shelters used by companies with overseas operations. Pawlenty vetoed the income tax proposal and has been cool to the business tax change.

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Brian Bakst can be reached at bbakst(at)ap.org

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