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Budget talks end abruptly

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota budget negotiations mysteriously ended with no explanation Sunday afternoon, 75 minutes after they started.

Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders left the meeting without talking to the media and their spokesmen said they did not know if further negotiations were planned as the state faces a possible Friday shutdown.

It was not clear if the meeting broke up because of disagreements among the parties or if negotiations could continue Monday. In any case, spokesmen said no further talks would occur today.

"Talks have concluded for the day," Senate GOP spokesman Michael Brodkorb said, adding that he did not know the circumstances.

Legislative leaders would remain meeting this afternoon, Brodkorb added.

The first two days of marathon negotiations, Friday and Saturday, legislative committee chairmen were on hand to deal with individual parts of the state budget. Few were near the negotiations on Sunday.

The meeting's abrupt ending came little more than an hour after a smiling Dayton told reporters as he walked into the House meeting room at 2 p.m. that he remained optimistic that a budget deal was possible. He said he hoped for as much progress as the past two days.

When negotiators ended their work Saturday night, they said they made progress, but refused to say how close they were to an overall deal. Their meetings were behind closed doors, with a limited number of people.

Brodkorb said negotiators had agreed to keep what happened in the talks private and said there were no plans for legislative leaders to discuss the talks later today.

Democrat Dayton wants a $35.8 billion budget for the two years beginning Friday, funded in part by a $1.8 billion tax increase on the state's top earners.

Republicans who hold House and Senate majorities went into negotiations insisting they will not spend more than $34 billion and reject any tax increase.

Legislative leaders and Dayton will not say if they have discussed the overall spending target, the place where Dayton for weeks has said they need to start.

If there is no budget in place by Friday, most state programs have no authorization to continue to operate. The state Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate money.

However, a Ramsey County judge is considering whether to allow any state spending without a budget. Judge Kathleen Gearin is expected to make her ruling in the next couple of days.

Whatever she decides, Gearin said in court last week that Minnesotans should expect her to order to limit spending.

Services such as the State Patrol and prisons likely could continue to operate, but most state programs are in question.