ST. PAUL (WCCO) — Time is running out for Minnesota lawmakers to reach a budget deal, and money for education is the main sticking point.

Legislators now have until midnight Tuesday to finish the budget, before the 2015 session legally has to end.

The House and Senate are sending to the Governor the “must-do” bills to keep the state running — all of which the Governor says he will sign — but a lot of other items won’t make it this year.

Despite a veto threat from the Governor, the House and Senate passed a $17 billion dollar education bill that does not include funding for pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year-olds. If the governor vetoes that bill, it will force the legislature into a special session.

“A veto of the bill before us today would be bad for students , their parents, communities across the state,” Sen. Carla Nelson, (R) Rochester, said.

Despite the focus on a Pre-K controversy, lawmakers say the Education bill they sent the governor is among the best they’ve ever passed.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but let me tell you what — it’s a darn good bill from what we had to work with,” Sen. Eric Pratt, (R) Prior Lake, said.

The bill contains a $400 million increase in school funding: 1.5% this year and 2% next year, plus early learning scholarships, money for deteriorating buildings, and permission to open before Labor Day.

But a determined Governor Mark Dayton vows a veto because it does not include the one thing he wanted most: free, voluntary pre-kindergarten programs for 4-year olds.

“It’s not acceptable to the people of Minnesota, and not acceptable to the people who depend on this,” the governor said at a press conference.

The kind of preschool program the Governor wants does not exist in Minnesota right now or many other states. Gov. Dayton says it’s “true education reform” — something completely new that he’s willing to make waves over.

Ahead of a midnight deadline: Democrats saved MinnesotaCare, the health insurance program for the working poor, while Republicans pushed through major funding increases for nursing homes.

Republicans had to sacrifice a $2 billion dollar tax cut promised with surplus funds, while Democrats couldn’t include a gas tax hike for roads and bridges, which Republican lawmakers say voters don’t want.

“They are not interested in another gas tax, the largest gas tax in state history,” GOP Majority Leader Rep. Joyce Pepin said.

“You ran a campaign on nothing, you have accomplished nothing,” Rep. Ryan Winkler, (DFL) St. Louis Park, told his Republican colleagues. “You’re delivering nothing. Your entire majority amounts to nothing.”

After debating the uses of the state’s $2 billion surplus, lawmakers will go home leaving $1 billion of it in the bank.

As the hours tick down to the budget deadline, stay tuned to WCCO on the air and online for the latest updates.

Pat Kessler

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