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Budget talks to heat up

ST. PAUL -- Two weeks remain in the Minnesota Legislature's 2008 session, so it is time for legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty to begin serious negotiations.

Those talks begin late Saturday morning, centering on how to plug a $935 million state budget deficit. Regardless of the success Saturday's talks produce, a flurry of activity will come early next week as many House-Senate conference committees face a Monday deadline to wrap up their work.

Pawlenty-legislative leader meetings may need to continue next week.

"I wouldn't expect the whole thing to be over this weekend," Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said.

Lawmakers may meet until May 19 under the state constitution. However, another constitutional provision gives them only eight more days to meet in floor sessions, so they could run out of days before May 19.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said Democrats who control the House are trying to find ways to settle the deficit and other issues that Republican Pawlenty can accept.

By far the main issue remaining in the session is how to deal with the deficit.

"There are a number of pathways to get to a global agreement," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said.

The House, Senate and Pawlenty agree on a three-prong approach -- taking some money out of funds running surpluses, closing a tax loophole used by multi-national corporations and cutting state program budgets. However, they don't agree on the details.

For instance, House and Senate leaders have agreed to cut $278 million out of the state budget, while Pawlenty wants $337 million in cuts.

One issue House Democrats feel strongly about is a bill giving many Minnesotans a property tax break. The bill, to be debated Monday, would provide a third of Minnesota home owners' property tax refunds. However, to fund those refunds, the bill eliminates a deduction homeowners have been able to take on their property taxes.

"They end up raising taxes on a vast majority of Minnesotans," Pawlenty said Friday in putting down the Democratic tax bill.

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

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.