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How are things going at Minnesota Legislature? Don't ask


ST. PAUL-The Democratic governor is threatening vetoes and, in some cases, saying bills the Minnesota Legislature is considering are not even worth negotiating, but says a transportation funding boost is vital.

The House, a lone Republican bastion at the Capitol, stands by itself in wanting $2 billion in tax cuts and no new gasoline tax.

The Democratic-controlled Senate leader says lawmakers don't really need to pass transportation and tax bills.

What does all that mean?

Save your voice: Don't ask how things are going at the Minnesota Legislature with three weeks left before they must adjourn. It is way too early for an accurate end-of-session prediction.


Four years ago, talk of a government shutdown began well before the session even began. This year, a few people are mentioning that possibility.

Transportation funding has been where Gov. Mark Dayton and Republicans have showed some of their starkest contrasts. Dayton and Senate Democrats want a new gasoline tax, starting at 16 cents a gallon and rising as the price of fuel goes up. Republicans reject any gasoline tax increase, insisting they can divert money from other state programs to fix the state's roads and bridges.

However, Dayton now says that after seeing the GOP plan it is "less impossible" to reach a deal. That is the most positive he has sounded on the topic all year.

Enter Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that he says there really is no need to approve billions of dollars in transportation improvements this year. "Transportation probably doesn't have to happen. ... We can kick the can down the road for the next Legislature to deal with. That's what's been happening."

As to those tax cuts Republicans want? "We may not get a tax bill," Bakk said. "We just may not be able to come to an agreement."

Then there are two Republican House bills that Dayton says are so different than what he says is needed in Minnesota that he can't even see a starting place to reach an agreement: public education and health and human services spending.

The fury he showed at Republican transportation plans earlier now appears directed to those two measures.

Late in the week, Dayton said he is willing to compromise on education funding, but he did not sound willing to give up too much on his desire to pump a lot more dollars into pre-kindergarten programs.


There also are public safety bills that Dayton says he will veto if they allow gun silencers (gun supporters like to call them suppressors). The Democratic Senate put the provision in its bill and the House is likely to follow suit, setting up a standoff, and Dayton is armed with a veto pen.

There even are disputes over a bill everyone supports: providing avian flu fighting money.

The House unanimously passed the basic flu bill. The Senate passed its own version, with a provision to allow federal funds also to be spent against the flu and other provision dealing with an unrelated issue. The House rejected the Senate bill and voted to set up a conference committee to negotiate a final bill, but senators balked on the idea.

House bill sponsor Rep. David Bly, D-Northfield, said the House probably hurt senators' feelings by wanting to negotiate.

The two bodies are in the middle of passing funding bills for various parts of the next two-year state budget, which will spend more than $40 billion. By next weekend, budget bills each chamber passes should be ready for final negotiations. Once negotiators have a few days of working to merge what in some cases are far different bills, maybe Capitol observers can more accurately say how the session in going.

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