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DFL prepares its own budget plan

ST. PAUL - The Democrat-controlled Legislature could today send Gov. Tim Pawlenty a budget-balancing package he has not agreed to as Minnesota lawmakers enter the final week of the legislative session.

As high-level budget talks stumbled Sunday, legislative leaders were preparing for votes as early as today in the House and Senate on bills aimed at erasing a projected $935 million state budget deficit, if they and Republican Pawlenty fail to reach a compromise.

"We're still hoping for a negotiated agreement here, but we need to have an orderly end of the session and so we are also prepared with the bills that need to be sent to the governor to balance the budget ..." House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

The governor and lawmakers met Sunday evening, but a deal did not appear imminent. There were disagreements over property tax relief and other tax measures that could be part of an overall deal to balance the budget.

Legislative tax leaders were scheduled to meet with Pawlenty administration officials to discuss those tax proposals, with more closed-door negotiations possible following that meeting.

While top lawmakers focused Sunday on an overall budget agreement, legislative negotiators approved an alternative budget plan and a separate education finance bill.

House-Senate conference committees on taxes and health care reform were expected to complete their bills in time to be voted on today by the Legislature.

If the Legislature sends its own budget-balancing bills to Pawlenty, he will have three days to either sign or veto them. Pawlenty spokesman Alex Carey said "the governor's not going to let the Democrats raise our taxes and fail to balance the budget."

"If they send us the bills and take that approach, the bills will be vetoed," Carey said.

Pawlenty and the DFL-led Legislature offered competing budget proposals, but both would erase the deficit by cutting state spending, using reserve funds and ending some tax incentives used by multi-national corporations.

The Legislature must adjourn by May 19.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said it seemed unlikely an overall agreement would be reached by today and questioned Democratic lawmakers' desire for a compromise.

"I think it's in their best interest, our best interest and the people's best interest to have a deal done, but it looks to me like they're going to try to come close enough for government work and then jam bills to the governor and then try to somehow make him the bad guy with bad-faith negotiating," Seifert said.

High-level talks resumed a day after Pawlenty celebrated the state fishing opener in northern Minnesota.

On Saturday, Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, sent a letter to Pawlenty notifying him of their alternative budget-balancing plan.

"We each have bottom lines that we must protect," the leaders wrote to Pawlenty. "We believe we can each find success in our agreements; however we must be prepared to move forward in an orderly manner, one way or another."