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Legislative session clock ticking: Disagreement over budget continues

Gov. Mark Dayton signs a bill Friday that would increase penalties for people who flee police on foot. Helping him is Nickolas Bedard, son of a Minneapolis police officer Larry Bedard who died while chasing a suspect on foot. Bill sponsors are Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove, behind Dayton, and Sen. John Harrington of St. Paul, left. Pioneer Photo/Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota legislative leaders and governor continue meeting but not progressing on the state budget.

The key disagreement is the same as it has been for months: Republicans who control the Legislature refuse to spend more than $34 billion in the next two years and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton insists on raising taxes to spend more. Dayton's latest proposal is $35.8 billion.

Neither side shows signs of giving and there may not be time to technically rework nine tax and spend bills by the Legislature's midnight Monday deadline to adjourn.

Dayton and leaders met twice Friday. While there was lots of talk about policy items, the spending targets remained static.

"I don't know if I would characterize it as progress," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said after leaving the afternoon Dayton meeting.

Dayton, Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said they will stay in touch all weekend. They plan to meet this morning, followed by a transportation funding meeting with Dayton and Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, and Michael Beard, R-Shakopee. Legislative leaders said more meetings are possible.

The Legislature, controlled by Republicans, has passed all of its budget bills. A public schools measure was the first to arrive in Dayton's office on Friday.

Dayton has shown no inclination to sign any budget bill. He has three working days to sign bills, which gives him a deadline after the state Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn for the year.

While legislative leaders and Dayton do not like to talk about it, there may not be time to rewrite bills before the adjournment deadline. Making major changes takes time, and if all nine remaining bills need reworking at once, time very well could expire.

"We owe it to the people to be here every moment of every day," Zellers said. "We're conditioned to go with lots of coffee, lots of chocolate."

Just being there did not mean progress. Zellers and Koch demand that Dayton give them his ideas of an additional $1.8 billion in program cuts and will not consider his $1.8 billion tax increase proposal.

Dayton said he will not list his cuts, beyond what he already proposes, until Republicans show a willingness to allow new revenue.

"I am not going to negotiate on their side of the ledger when they won't negotiate on mine," the governor said.

Besides, he added, "they are the ones who specialize in cuts."

Most talk in the Capitol is centered on a special legislative session, with observers assuming no deal can be cut by midnight Monday. That special session could deal with a government shutdown if the budget is not done when the current budget ends on June 30.

Koch will have none of that talk: "In our mind, the deadline is May 23, not June 30."

Even as the budget remains undone, lawmakers and Dayton are making progress in other areas.

Dayton signed a bill Friday that expands the definition of fleeing a law enforcement officer. The bill allows prosecutors to charge people who flee on foot just like those who flee in a car.

Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove, and Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, sponsored the bill and were on hand for the bipartisan bill signing with the family of a Minneapolis officer killed while chasing a suspect on foot.

On other well publicized issue, Dayton said he has held no meetings on a Vikings football stadium since early in the week. There appeared to be as many questions raised than answered during the week.

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