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Legislature's home stretch off to ugly start

ST. PAUL -- Two weeks are left in the Minnesota legislative session, and things are not looking pretty.

"If we don't get done on time, members, the blame lies at the feet of the governor," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, told fellow representatives hours after a meeting among he, another lawmaker and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton abruptly ended.

Dayton invited Lanning and Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, to a meeting about negotiations on their state government spending bills.

"He basically wanted to lecture and scold us," Lanning said in an interview. "I have never been lectured and scolded by another elected official."

Conference committees are negotiating differences between House and Senate versions of bills funding state government programs. Negotiations Parry and Lanning lead deal with several executive branch departments, and bills from both houses would cut spending.

A letter Dayton sent to Lanning and Parry on Monday asked the two of them to agree to not cut veterans and military programs.

"I believe that holding our veterans and military harmless is an area upon which we can all agree," Dayton wrote.

The letter came after a Friday meeting that produced heated exchanges when Lanning and Parry said they want to keep veterans and military funding the same, but Dayton commissioners came to their conference committee talking about cuts to those programs.

The Friday discussion escalated to involve other programs, with Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson asking why his department would have to undergo more cuts even though legislators already passed his budget and Dayton signed it into law.

One major GOP proposal would cut 15 percent of the state workforce in the next four years, savings the state money.

The veterans issue arose again Monday when Parry dashed off a letter to Dayton saying, in part: "What you have done to mislead the military and veterans community is not leadership."

Lanning said that in the abbreviated Monday meeting, Dayton insisted, as he has for weeks, that the House and Senate agree on spending bills before he negotiates with lawmakers. Lanning said the governor was angry, "which I didn't appreciate."

The Moorhead lawmaker called it a "very unpleasant meeting."

Republican legislative leaders, who control the House and Senate, generally meet with Dayton on Tuesday mornings. Leaders and Dayton always call the meetings pleasant.

Lanning said with the Legislature required to adjourn on May 23, it's time for Dayton to start negotiating the budget. GOP leaders want to spend $34 billion in the next two years, while Dayton wants a $37 billion budget.

The short meeting and Dayton's actions do "not bode well for us to conclude our business," Lanning said.

Don Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.