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URGENT

In ugly finish, lawmakers hustle budget through

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AP Photo MNJM101-105

By BRIAN BAKST

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Associated Press Writer

ST. PAUL (AP) — In a bruising conclusion, the Minnesota Legislature powered through a state budget Monday night while failing to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a bill raising the gas tax.

Although lawmakers finished all must-pass bills, the session came to a sour end when the House fell into disarray as majority Democrats cut off debate to get votes in before the midnight deadline.

They rushed through bills providing billions of dollars for public schools, nursing homes and state colleges with the goal of passing an on-time budget for the first time since 1999.

The most dramatic moments came when the House failed in a bid to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of a bill raising the state gas tax to pay for road construction. The attempt fell seven votes short of the required 90 for an override.

The last-day scramble was a bit more frenzied than most years, primarily because legislators were passing final budget bills without the advance blessing of Pawlenty. Marathon negotiations to strike a deal faltered in the end, leaving the fate of the bills in doubt.

The Republican governor reserved the right to use his veto power to slim down the budget. If he decides to scuttle an entire bill, it would force a special session. At an evening news conference, Pawlenty said he wouldn’t be pressured into accepting things he doesn’t like or a level of spending he finds too rich.

"I have a duty to review these bills to make sure they are not goofed up, off track, flawed," Pawlenty said. "I can’t just say that bills I haven’t even seen yet that spend $34 billion and are 500 pages long or more that I’m going(to blindly say, ‘I’ll sign them."’

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But he generally put a positive face on a five-month session that brought a commitment to renewable energy, a ban on indoor smoking and a two-year budget of roughly $35 billion.

Democrats, who held full control of the Legislature for the first time this decade, also claimed victory. While they didn’t achieve everything they promised voters, they said they moved toward full-day kindergarten in more places, broader health coverage for people facing financial struggles, eased college tuition and help for homeowners unable to keep up with rising property taxes.

"The tenor and tone here at the Capitol has changed a lot this year," said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. "We feel very good about the changes we have made."

That came before 90 minutes of sharp words, accusations of power politics and procedural motions as Republicans tried to block the transportation override and Democrats moved to get the vote in.

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