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Special session all but certain with no budget progress

ST. PAUL -- One comment says it all: "Not much progress was made."

With those words, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, summarized this morning's budget talks between legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton.

Facing a Monday night deadline to complete the budget in the 2011 legislative session, there appeared no way that can happen. Normally at this stage of a budget session, offers are being exchanged and some budget agreements are being made.

Today, Republican leaders said they asked Democrat Dayton for feedback on an education finance bill lawmakers finished a week ago. They said he said little.

"We are a little disappointed we haven't heard feedback on the education bill," House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, told reporters in front of the governor's office.

Dayton did not immediately respond publicly.

The meeting kicked off the final weekend of the legislative session on a sour note.

When legislative leaders finished with Dayton, Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, and Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee, took their places to discuss transportation issues with the governor.

Leaders and Dayton plan a mid-afternoon meeting and the House and Senate expect to be in session all day, perhaps well into the night.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said Republicans who control the Legislature are ready to meet throughout the weekend.

However, there are questions about whether even if there are meetings, and an agreement, that budget bills could be rewritten in time for lawmakers to finish by the Monday constitutional deadline.

While many lawmakers say they know a special legislative session will be needed, leaders and Dayton still say they are hopeful to finish on time.

The most difficult difference between Dayton and the GOP is in that the governor wants to spend $35.8 billion in the next two years, aided by a higher tax on the 2 percent best-earning Minnesotans. Republicans set their spending limit at $34 billion and say they will not consider a tax increase.

Republican leaders also complain that Dayton has not given them a list of all budget cuts he wants. Dayton retorts that he will not do that until Republicans negotiate an overall spending target.

If the budget remains unfinished Monday night, Dayton can call a special session to finish the work. Normally when budget issues remain at the end of the regular session, legislative leaders and the governor negotiate, with the governor calling a special session only when an agreement is reached.

If no budget is passed by July 1, the state government would begin shutting down.

Eight budget bills and a tax bill are on Dayton's desk awaiting his signature or veto. He has said he will reject them.

A bill funding agriculture programs, including food inspection, passed and Dayton signed it into law earlier in the session. But it is only a small fraction of the state budget.

Outside the House chamber today, like the last few days, gay marriage supporters and opponents chanted throughout the morning. They are awaiting a possible vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.

House leaders refuse to say when, or if, they will vote on the amendment.

If the House approves the amendment, it will be sent to voters in the November 2012 election.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.