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A year unlike nearly any other in Minnesota politics

ST. PAUL -- The past year was packed with disputes under the Minnesota Capitol dome, often involving Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature sparring over money issues. It was a year full of surprises.

Here's a timeline of some 2011 political highlights:

Jan. 3: Dayton was inaugurated as one of the state's most liberal governors, then immediately puts a tax-the-rich strategy at the top of his priority list.

Jan. 4: The first Republican-controlled Legislature in decades convenes with lawmakers expressing optimism, but admitting they may need a special session to plug a budget deficit.

Late January: Lawmakers and the Dayton administration say they want to approve a new Vikings football stadium, but only after passing a state budget.

Jan. 31: Dayton suggests spending $1 billion for public works projects, with him picking half and the GOP-controlled Legislature deciding half.

Feb. 9: In Dayton's first State of the State speech, he says, "Compromise doesn't mean we have to agree, thank goodness, because we won't."

Feb. 10: Dayton vetoes Republican bill that would cut $900 million from state budget.

Feb. 16: Dayton unveils a $37 billion, two-year budget proposal.

Feb. 28: Minnesota leaders learn the budget deficit they face is $5 billion, not the $6.2 billion they expected.

March 3: Dayton signs bill he and Republican lawmakers like, to speed environmental business permits.

March 7: Dayton bucks Education Minnesota and signs Republican-pushed bill to give mid-career professionals an easier route to becoming teachers.

March 10: Legislative Republicans say they want to spend $34 billion in the next two years, about the same as in the last budget but $3 billion less than Dayton proposes.

April 15: Dayton signs bill funding agriculture programs, the only budget bill he and Republicans could agree on before July.

May: Talk heats up about a Vikings stadium and it appears a bill is near.

May 21: Legislators approve Republican-written constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage; voters will decide the issue in November 2012.

May 23: On its last regular-session day, Legislature passes budget bills without governor's blessing.

May 24: Dayton vetoes budget bills.

June 17: A self-imposed deadline to finish a stadium bill passes without agreement.

June 30: Republicans fill the legislative chambers begging Dayton to call them into session to pass a temporary budget and avoid a shutdown; Dayton refuses.

July 1: Minnesota state government begins a partial shutdown, which by the time it ends on July 20 is the longest in state history and one of the longest ever in the country.

July 14: Dayton breaks the budget impasse by dropping his plan to raise taxes on the rich and accepting an offer Republicans made on June 30.

July 14-18: Final budget negotiations go on.

July 19: Dayton orders the Legislature into a special session to pass a state budget; it lasts 12 hours and 35 minutes.

July 20: Legislators approve $498 million worth of public works projects to be funded by the state selling bonds.

July 20: Dayton signs 11 budget bills spending $35.7 billion over two years, a budget no one likes; he also signs public works bill.

July 21: "Open" signs return to Minnesota government buildings.

Sept. 23: The country's third major credit-rating agency downgrades Minnesota's credit rating, blaming a budget that uses borrowed money to fund on-going needs.

October: Word spreads a tax law change means local governments will not get as much from the state as expected, and many officials say they will raise property taxes and blame the state.

Nov. 2: Plans for a pre-Thanksgiving special legislative session to deal with stadium fall through.

Nov. 7: Millions of dollars in federal health-care aid temporarily stop when Republican senator raises questions.

Dec. 1: News of $876 million budget surplus is a pleasant surprise to state leaders who expected a deficit.

Dec. 2: State Republican Chairman Tony Sutton, who helped engineer his party's takeover of the Legislature, abruptly resigns, leaving the party with what some estimate to be more than $1 million in debts.

Dec. 5: Judge stops Dayton-ordered election for day care providers to join union.

Dec. 6: Major stadium hearing yields no agreements, but lots of ideas about how to finance one, mostly by gambling.

Dec. 15: Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch quits her leadership position, saying it is time to move on.

Dec. 16: Four senators reveal that the night before Koch resigned, they confronted her with information that staffers claim she had an inappropriate relationship with an employee.

Dec. 27: Senate Republicans elect new leader.

Dec. 31: State Republicans elect new party chairman.

Looking ahead, several 2012 dates appear important.

Jan. 24: Legislative session begins at noon.

Feb. 1: Vikings Metrodome lease expires.

Feb. 2-7: Recess for precinct caucuses.

Feb. 21: New legislative district maps released.

Feb. 29: New budget forecast unveiled.

April 6-13: Easter-Passover break.

April 30: Legislative leaders plan to adjourn for the year.

May 21: Session must end under state Constitution.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.