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State stalemate enters sixth day

By Matthew Stolle

mstolle@postbulletin.com

From the moment that budgetary talks broke down after DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson adjourned the Senate on Thursday, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said all proposals were off the table. Negotiations were back to square one.

You could say they've stepped back even further. With the partial government shutdown into its sixth day, focus shifted to a tax working group to see if it could come up with a revenue plan.

"If the tax working group or the legislative leadership could come up with a number for how much is in the checkbook, I think it would be fairly easy then to assign the monies to the remaining budget categories," Pawlenty said during a conference call with the media.

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But few legislators were holding their breath for a resolution from that quarter.

The committee is chaired by two of the most politically incompatible lawmakers in the Legislature: Sen. Larry Pogemiller, a classic liberal Democrat from Minneapolis, and Rep. Phil Krinkie, a fiscally tight-fisted conservative from Shoreview.

"I believe that (they) are just philosophically too far apart to be able to come up with a tax bill," said Sen. Dave Senjem, a Republican from Rochester.

Leaders continue talks

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

As soon as the framework of a budget deal is in hand, Sviggum said the House would pass a temporary spending measure that would let affected employees return to work. The Senate passed a 10-day stopgap bill Saturday, but it failed again Tuesday in the House.

More than 9,000 state employees have been idled since a deadline for passing a two-year budget bill passed without agreement from state leaders.

Growing frustration

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Meanwhile, efforts were under way on a variety of fronts to jump-start the budget process. A couple of splinter groups of House and Senate moderates continued to work toward an agreement that might win bipartisan support.

It was not clear whether moderate groups forming in response to the budget impasse have enough momentum and numbers to change the political dynamics in St. Paul. Senjem called the activity a sign of the "anxiousness" taking hold among many legislators.

Rep. Andy Welti, a Democrat from Plainview, said a House group met for the second straight day Tuesday, growing from 30 to 50 legislators in the process. Welti said members are frustrated with legislative leaders.

"A lot of us put trust in our leaders to come to compromise on a final (budget) and that did not happen. Therefore, we're moving on. I'm looking for other ways to bring this session to a close," Welti said.

Social service hangup

Pawlenty acknowledged that the biggest hang-up to a solution is the state's social services area. The governor returned to arguments he used earlier in the session, decrying Democratic proposals to spend more in the social services sector.

"It's growing wildly on autopilot," Pawlenty said. "Democrats want to increase (spending) to about 20 percent a year. We're trying to slow it down to 16 percent."

Pawlenty also reiterated his view that he had done everything in his power to reach agreement with Johnson before the June 30 shutdown date, but that Democrats appeared intent on forcing a shutdown to hurt him politically.

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