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Minn. Legislature Moves Closer To Special Session

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A budget standoff between Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican lawmakers pushed the Minnesota Legislature closer to overtime Saturday, with less than 60 hours left before a required adjournment deadline.

A special session now looks inevitable, despite the heady hopes of a fresh crop of Capitol players who swept into power at the start of the year. Voters sent a mixed message: Dayton is the state’s first Democratic governor in 20 years, but the Republican takeover of the entire Legislature is even more historic. Republicans control both chambers for the first time in 38 years.

The basic disagreement over taxes and spending has been the same for weeks.

Faced with a projected $5 billion deficit, Dayton wants to raise taxes. He downsized his proposal Monday to $1.8 billion from more than $3 billion, but Republicans refuse to consider new taxes or other revenue beyond the $34 billion the state is projected to take in over the next two years. Instead, they want to balance the budget by cutting spending and say it’s important to show the public the state can tighten its belt like an average family.

Democrats characterize the level of GOP-backed budget cuts as harmful for the poor and vulnerable residents like disabled children and seniors trying to stay out of nursing homes.

Talks between Dayton and legislative leaders resumed Saturday but appeared to make no headway.

“Really, not much progress was made,” said House Minority Paul Thissen, a Minneapolis Democrat who joined the private negotiations for the first time with Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk. “We talked about generalities. I didn’t see much movement from the Republican leadership at all.”

Budget talks were expected to continue later in the day.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said she pressed Dayton to spell out his objections to a public schools spending package that landed on his desk a day earlier. She said he responded that he was still reviewing the bill. The rest of the GOP budget bills were presented to Dayton on Saturday. He has until Tuesday to act on a schools bill and Wednesday on the other bills.

Dayton has vowed to veto all the spending bills without an overall budget agreement.

Koch and Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel showed increasing frustration with Dayton.

“There’s 500 school districts waiting. If he’s going to take until Monday, then he’s putting those school districts into a special session,” Michel said.

Meanwhile, much of the action in the Capitol focused on the House, which could vote on a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Leaders delayed the vote a day earlier after a preacher known for anti-gay comments delivered a prayer on the House floor, prompting an apology from House Speaker Kurt Zellers. It wasn’t clear whether the legislation would come up Saturday.

Protesters on both sides of the gay marriage issue massed outside the House chamber, creating a wall of sound that illustrated the public passion involved.

If the House passes the bill, the question of how to define marriage would go before voters next year. They would be asked to approve a traditional definition of marriage — the union of one man and one woman — as an amendment to the state constitution.

Earlier, hundreds filled the Capitol rotunda demonstrating against budget cuts and showing support for Dayton’s plan to raise income taxes on the highest 2 percent of earners.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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