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Session just crawling along

ST. PAUL -- It was hurry up and wait, without the hurry, Wednesday at the Minnesota Legislature. The second day of a special session called to pass a $28.3 billion two-year budget ended with just $3.9 billion approved. Closed-door negotiations co...

ST. PAUL -- It was hurry up and wait, without the hurry, Wednesday at the Minnesota Legislature.

The second day of a special session called to pass a $28.3 billion two-year budget ended with just $3.9 billion approved. Closed-door negotiations continued on the remaining $24.4 billion worth of spending.

Hopes dimmed that lawmakers could go home this week, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty didn't rule it out.

"It's still possible," he said. "We still have time to finish by Friday."

The only bill either house passed Wednesday came when the House voted 70-62 for a judiciary finance bill, a day after the Senate passed it.

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Minnesota's court system takes a 3 percent budget cut in the bill. State agencies receive an average cut of 14 percent.

That was the only public action of the day, other than an unproductive meeting of tax conference committee looking into local government aid.

Expected in the Senate today is a bill to allow more nuclear storage at Minnesota's nuclear power plants. That was the issue that ended in meltdown just before midnight Monday, when the regular session ended. Senators tried to out-shout each other, and delaying tactics by Murphy opponents ended the bill's chances Monday.

The Legislature was scheduled to pass bills funding transportation and public education Wednesday. Despite frequent legislative leaders assertions that they were close to agreements, none ever materialized.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, spent much of the day meeting with top Pawlenty lieutenants on the two bills.

As Wednesday ended, there was broad agreement leaders would have to make most decisions about the other major money bills -- those funding health and human services programs, construction projects and local government aid. None of the committees dealing with them reported significant progress.

"We've got a ways to go," said Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, chairman of one of the key committees.

Pawlenty called the special session to begin Tuesday after lawmakers agreed only on two small funding bills before the Monday constitutional adjournment deadline.

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The differences may be best exemplified by a deep split between lead negotiators on a bonding bill, a measure to fund construction projects around the state by selling bonds.

Langseth and Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, have not met since Monday night.

Krinkie said when he left that meeting, he asked Langseth to call him with a new bonding offer. Late Wednesday afternoon, Krinkie said he still was waiting for that call.

Langseth, however, said he already told Krinkie that call would not come. "I said, 'No,' I don't think I will," he said. "There's no point."

Langseth's Capital Investment Committee passed a bonding bill of more than $400 million during the regular session, but it failed on the Senate floor.

An overall budget agreement announced Saturday would allow for up to $210 million of projects. But Langseth and Krinkie both said they may decide not to pursue the bill.

Langseth handed out copies of his bonding proposal Wednesday. That upset Krinkie, who said negotiations should not be held in public.

Langseth would build all college and university projects that then-Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed a year ago.

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He also would spend $5.5 million to move the Trollwood Performing Arts School from Fargo to Moorhead.

Also on Langseth's list are trails around the state and a variety of arts projects.

Krinkie would not fund arts projects, such as Trollwood, and said his fellow Republicans would prefer no bill rather than have one that does not distribute construction projects to most of their districts.

"We don't need a bonding bill," Krinkie said.

Langseth said he would rather go home without a bonding bill than accept something like Krinkie offers. The Glyndon senator said Krinkie's bill doesn't include projects in DFL districts, while his bill includes projects Republicans want.

"I think there will be kind of a last-minute effort to do it," Langseth said, but admitted if it gets done it probably will be because legislative leaders make most of the decisions.

If the budget is not finished by this weekend, Sviggum said, the session could stretch through the end of the current budget on June 30.

"It we bust through that (weekend), it is Katy bar the door," Sviggum said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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