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Legislature to consider some of its biggest bills today

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislators could pass some of the biggest bills yet this year today, but budget work awaits more information from Washington.

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Senators expect to debate a $367 million public works bill today. The bill easily floated through two committee hearings, and is expected to find equally easy passage in the full Senate.

The House, however, continues to work on its equivalent measure, so no one knows when the measure -- known as the bonding bill -- will be sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty for his signature.

The governor frequently has said he opposes borrowing money for public works projects unless they are needed to complete funding for items federal money would start.

Also today, senators probably will debate a bill that Pawlenty helped launch that requires school districts to share services in an effort to save money.

While Senate Democrats have released their budget outline, Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, on Friday said it is doubtful major specific budget decisions will be made in the coming days because many questions remain about how $2 billion in federal funds may be spent.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said he expects the numbers to change until a budget finally is passed, in a large part because of unansweredfederal questions.

The House is expected to announce, probably on Friday, its budget outline. But like in the Senate,committees will decidespecific numbers.

Pawlenty also is expected to announce changes to his first budget proposal in about a week.

LGA fight continues

Greater Minnesota cities continue to take on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's proposed local government aid cuts.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities has enlisted a pair of moderate former lawmakers of different political parties to argue that cuts in aid --which generally will have less impact on suburban communities -- is a matter of tax fairness. They say aid cuts equal higher property taxes, which hit many greater Minnesota cities hard.

"The property tax catch is this: If a city has lower-valued homes, they have a lower property tax base and are forced to charge each homeowner a higher rate in order to gather enough money to pay for essential services, like police officers and firefighters," ex-Reps. Frank Moe of Bemidji and Dan Dorman of Albert Lea wrote in an editorial page submission.

Dorman, a Republican, and Moe, a Democrat, said everyone agrees that Minnesotans are entitled to some basic services, such as police, fire protection, safe roads, libraries and parks. They claim Pawlenty's proposed cuts are so deep that all of those services are in danger.

Weatherization coming

The federal economic stimulus package provides $131 million to Minnesotans who need to weatherize their homes.

The program would provide thousands of families 32 percent savings on energy bills, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said. Some public buildings also would receive energy upgrades.

Information on how to apply for the program is available at www.staywarm.mn.gov.

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