Weather Forecast


UPDATE: Leaders, governor in last-ditch budget talks

Reps. Denny McNamara of Hastings, left, and Mark Buesgens of Jordan talk on the Minnesota House floor Monday during one of several breaks in activity. Photo by Don Davis.

ST. PAUL - Minnesota legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will make one more try to resolve some differences that separate them before tonight's Legislature adjournment.

But the prospects did not sound good this afternoon.

"We are left with some significant differences," Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said following a meeting among leaders and Pawlenty.

Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, were meeting with health and tax committee leaders to determine whether they can come up with ideas for budget agreements they can make with Pawlenty.

"We are going to take one more deep look," Kelliher said.

If Democratic leaders and Pawlenty do not reach a deal by the midnight constitutionally mandated adjournment time, the Republican governor says he will cut $2.5 billion out of state budget bills legislators passed.

Kelliher appeared upset this morning shortly after the House came into session when she told Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, that leaders waited all day Sunday for the governor to call a meeting. She said Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget, Pawlenty's chief budget negotiator, told her and others on a legislative commission in the wee hours of Sunday morning that he "would get back to you" with a firm meeting time.

The governor's office said it was waiting for a budget offer by Democrats who control the Legislature.

After meeting with the governor, Democratic legislative leaders said that even without an overall budget deal, the legislative session was successful.

"Pretty remarkable" is how Kelliher described the session, which ended with Pawlenty signing the Legislature's budget bills and his promise that there will be no special session.

However, Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, left the door open to a special session this afternoon by refusing to rule it out when reporters asked him about it.

Kelliher said the session ends tonight with "partial solutions."

As they headed to meetings with committee chairmen, Kelliher said she did not know if they could narrow the gap with Pawlenty.

"We are going to work up to the deadline tonight," Pogemiller said.

Seifert did not sound optimistic.

"We have a lot of work to do today between now and midnight if we are gong to close the gap," he said. "The sand is running out of the hourglass."

Representatives spent hours Sunday afternoon and night debating overturning two Pawlenty vetoes, efforts which failed. A DFL spokesman said there was not even budget talk between legislative and gubernatorial staff members Sunday.

With Pawlenty saying he will cut budgets on his own, he also says he will not call legislators back into a special session to continue budget talks. The governor is the only one who can call a special session.

This is the first time in Minnesota history that a governor is using an executive power known as unallotment to essentially write a budget. In the past, governors occasionally have used unallotment to trim budgets when revenues fell below expectations near the end of a budget cycle.

Pawlenty has signaled that he likely will delay payments to schools to make up much of the remaining deficit. And it appears he will reduce state payments to local governments, perhaps by several hundred million dollars.

The governor's spokesman, Brian McClung, said no timeline has been established for when Pawlenty will make decisions on specifically what to cut.

The state's new two-year budget begins July 1. Short of a budget deal yet today, Pawlenty plans to reduce spending to about $31 billion.

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.