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King Tut, Jello show things are not well in Capitol

ST. PAUL -- Two colorful quotes demonstrate the tough state of the Minnesota Legislature.

"Anyway, back to King Tut," Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, told fellow senators as she returned to a lengthy discussion of all things Tut and dinosaur, saying the Science Museum of Minnesota would be hurt by a bill cutting state programs.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, showed the mood of chief policymakers when he described Gov. Mark Dayton's negotiations' strategy: "It's been like nailing Jello to a tree."

Democrat Dayton said Wednesday that he was growing increasingly pessimistic that he and the Legislature can agree on a budget by Monday, the day the state Constitution says the Legislature must end its 2011 session. Short of what many in the Capitol consider a miracle, it appears Dayton will need to call a special legislative session to finish the budget.

Republican legislators mounted an around-the-clock campaign to pass budget bills that appeared destined to be vetoed.

The House met through the night Tuesday, finally heading home at 6:03 a.m. Wednesday. The same was expected Wednesday night and this morning.

The Senate began its work on the budget at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with senators expecting a late-night session.

Soon after the Senate began debating reducing the number of state employees Wednesday morning, a House committee sent to the full House a bill aimed at forbidding gay marriages. The bill would ask the public to amend the state Constitution next year to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The House Rules Committee voted 13-12 in favor of the bill in a mostly party-line vote. Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing cast the only Republican vote against the measure.

At the vote, some in the crowd cried. Two state troopers dragged one protester out of the Capitol meeting room.

Budget debate took up most of Wednesday, liberally sprinkled with accusations that neither side wants to negotiate seriously.

Republicans offer a $34 billion, two-year budget and refuse to spend any more money. Dayton on Monday said he would reduce his tax increase plan by half, leaving a $35.8 billion budget target, but insisting his remaining tax hike remain.

The House and Senate should finish passing all nine budget and tax bills today.

Dayton plans to meet with Republican legislators at 1:15 p.m. today, but no one expects him to convince them to support his $1.8 billion tax increase, featuring a higher tax on Minnesota's best earners.

Republican leaders and Dayton said they are available to meet about the budget, but they did not get together Wednesday.

"I don't agree on anything yet," Dayton said of the budget bills.

The governor said that he and lawmakers need to agree on the overall budget number before making other progress.

"They want it all their way," Dayton said. "I am supposed to go all the way over to their budget entirely."

Republicans claimed they could make no progress on budget compromises because Dayton aides said they could not negotiate on behalf of the governor. And some said Dayton's folks are too interested in building a Vikings football stadium.

"They seem to be more focused on the Vikings stadium than on the budget," said Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo.

The chief Senate transportation funding negotiator, Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, complained that he has not been able to meet with Dayton and Dayton's aides say they cannot negotiate a budget deal.

Despite the problems, Zellers pledged to keep working. "We are not going to quit in the third quarter of a tie game."

Budget details

Republicans who control the House and Senate are pushing through budget bills that fund state government, over objections of Democrats and Gov. Mark Dayton.

The bills are compromises between ones earlier passed by the House and Senate. However, real negotiations have yet to begin between Republicans and Democrat Dayton.

Lawmakers face a Monday deadline to agree on a two-year budget, but most political observers say a special legislative session will be needed to do the job.

The funding bills written by Republicans could become the basis of a final budget.

Public schools

-- Funds Minnesota public schools. $14 billion.

Bill spends nearly two-thirds of the entire state general fund. Republicans say the bill would keep classroom funding at current levels. Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said his bill has improved special education funding and made other changes to satisfy Dayton.

The bill requires teacher assessment and would grade schools. It also would allow low-income some students to get vouchers to attend private schools.

Teacher strikes would be prohibited and the seniority tenure system would be eliminated.

Health, human services

-- Funds health care and welfare-type programs for poor, disabled and elderly. $11 billion.

The second largest funding area provides mostly for the Health and Human Services and Health departments. There is a dispute about how many people would lose health coverage under the bill, but Dayton said it would be more than 120,000.

The budget is complex. The budget would be up from current spending, but it falls far short of what many health-care advocates say is needed to keep up with soaring medical costs. While cutting many programs, the budget is up $570 million from current spending.

Higher education

-- Funds University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities systems. $2.5 billion.

The two higher education systems face $441 million in cuts, which is 11 percent less than current spending. Officials of the two systems said the funding level is similar to 1998 and would lead to hundreds of layoffs.

The state grant program, which provides aid for private and public college students, would rise 7.3 percent.

Courts, public safety

-- Funds courts and public safety programs. $1.8 billion.

Bill cuts less spending than many programs, but it eliminates crime-prevention grants, reduces funding for legal services for the poor and cuts Human Rights Department funding.

Inmates in state prisons would be sent to local jails when two months remain on their sentences.


-- Funds highway, transit, airport, rail and other transportation programs. $4.5 billion.

About $130 million of the transportation bill comes from the state General Fund. Otherwise, most of the funding comes from sources such as the gasoline tax and is dedicated to specific areas.

Environment, energy

-- Funds Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and other outdoor and energy programs. $642 million.

Like other bills, some funds are used to balance the state budget. That money was found by cutting some programs and the possibility of closing some state parks.

Among provisions in the bill is one to remove restrictions on using electricity generated from coal.

State government

-- Funds variety of state programs, including governor, attorney general, state auditor and secretary of state's office. $600 million.

Bill cuts $312 million from spending allowed by current law and is $273 million below Dayton's plan. Dayton administration questions whether $279 million in the bill really is available.

The bill would freeze state salaries and reduce the workforce 15 percent by 2015. State spending also would be cut beyond other bills funding various state agencies. Most agencies under the bill would be cut 5 percent to 20 percent.

The bill also cuts public broadcasting appropriations, reduces number of assistant and deputy commissioners in state agencies, increases state worker health-care contributions,

Economic development

-- Funds economic development and jobs programs in several agencies. $138 million.

New workforce development grant programs would be created. Minnesota Trade Office, which seeks export opportunities, would be eliminated. Several economic development programs' funding reduced.


-- Funds agriculture and food inspection programs. $79 million.

Bill already has been signed into law, the only budget bill to reach that level, but the state government finance bill still being considered could make further cuts.


-- Provides for taxes and state aids such as sent to local governments.

No tax increases are in the bill, but there is $202 million in tax relief provided through statewide property tax cuts and other tax breaks.

State aid sent to local governments would drop, including money to cities falling 29 percent by Coalition of Greater Minnesota City estimates. Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis aid would be cut more in the next budget and eliminated a couple of years later. Renters' tax credits also would be reduced.

Also, the bill would remove $60 million from Doug Johnson fund, which pays for Iron Range economic development programs.


Full conference committee reports on budget and other bills are at

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.