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Minnesota lawmakers adjourn without budget

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ST. PAUL -- The smiles seen on Jan. 4, opening day of the 2011 legislative session, became frowns by Monday as Minnesota's 201 lawmakers headed home with no idea when they will wrap up their primary job: writing a two-year budget.

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Republicans who run the Legislature said they did their part before the Monday night constitutional adjournment date. They passed 10 budget and tax bills to fund state government with $34 billion for the two years beginning July 1.

However, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton only signed a $79 million measure funding agriculture programs, including food inspection, into law. The bulk of the budget remained unfinished when lawmakers hit their adjournment deadline.

Legislators left the Capitol frustrated after their Monday night adjournment deadline.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, called Republicans' dedication to small-government, low-tax principles almost cult-like.

Republicans, of course, disagreed. Sen. Ted Lillie, a rookie senator, said Republicans passed a balanced budget like voters want. Lillie, who represents Woodbury, said talks will continue, even after Monday's deadline.

Democrats, including Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove, framed the GOP proposal as an "all cuts budget" that would lead to increased property taxes and thousands of job cuts, both in the public and private sectors.

Sieben said the legislative session was frustrating, particularly when Republicans would not budge from their position even after Dayton made concessions.

"Gov. Dayton has shown a commitment to compromise and has met the Republicans halfway, but there hasn't been any willingness to compromise on their behalf," Sieben said.

A special legislative session will be needed to finish the budget. Just when that session could be called, and what needs to be done to reach that point, is anyone's guess. Dayton has said he will start thinking about such things today.

If a new budget is not finished by July 1, much of state government will shut down.

Dayton said he will ask Minnesotans to register their views about a government shutdown.

The governor has blamed Republicans for failing to negotiate and on Monday indicated that they need to move.

"Where there is a will, there's a way," Dayton said, "but there has to be some willingness."

Nine budget and tax bills sit on Dayton's desk for signatures or vetoes, and all indications are it will be the latter.

Issues other than the budget remain unresolved after the adjournment, including:

n A Vikings football stadium. It is one of the issues that could come up in a special session if details are worked out by then.

n Flood prevention. The House defeated a bill to construct flood-prevention structures in many communities, but the issue could arise in a special session as part of a broader public works funding bill that Dayton wants.

Accomplishments include the Legislature passing a controversial constitutional amendment defining a marriage as between a man and a woman, essentially banning gay marriages. Voters will decide the issue in November of 2012.

Early on, lawmakers and Dayton agreed to speed the environmental permitting process and giving mid-career professionals an easier way to become teachers.

Lawmakers introduced 3,334 bills this year, most of which never received committee hearings. Dayton signed 33 into law, far fewer than usual, although many bills that passed in the final days of the session are headed his way.

Scott Wente and Twin Cities freelance writer Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this report.

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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.
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