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Minn. Budget Talks Break Up As Shutdown Approaches

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Budget talks between Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders broke up abruptly Sunday with less than five days left to prevent a state government shutdown.

State leaders avoided reporters as they slipped out of a meeting room near the Capitol. Their staffers had no word on when or whether negotiations would resume.

The two sides have said little in recent days about the content of their discussions, but the latest turn took the information blackout to a new level.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers refused to comment on what happened in the meeting, but said he is still committed to avoiding a shutdown.

“I’m just waiting,” said Zellers, R-Maple Grove. “Waiting to get a budget, waiting to get a deal done, make sure we get out of here on time without government shutting down.”

Dayton spokeswoman Katie Tinucci had no immediate comment other than saying that the meeting’s quick end wasn’t a breakdown in talks.

Dayton and Republicans have been divided all year over spending and taxes in the two-year budget that is supposed to take effect on Friday. Three straight days of talks over the weekend came after months of fitful meetings yielded no compromise. Republicans want to erase a $5 billion deficit by cutting projected spending, while Dayton seeks to add $1.8 billion in new tax revenue, mainly from the state’s highest earners.

Without a new budget, most of state government would close on Friday, stopping road construction, closing state parks, suspending driver’s license exams and sending home tens of thousands of state workers. It would be Minnesota’s second government closure in six years, but this one would reach more widely than the partial shutdown of 2005.

A Ramsey County judge is expected to rule this week on how the state would proceed in a shutdown. She is considering the courts’ and governor’s authority to continue critical services without legislative appropriations.

Sunday’s meeting started with a more upbeat outlook. Dayton went into the room saying he was “optimistic” and “hopeful.”

“I hope we can continue making the type of progress we’ve made the last two days,” he said.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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