MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The pressure at the Minnesota State Capitol is ramping up. All sides are promising they will work long hours Thursday night, Friday and through the weekend to meet self-imposed deadlines to get key bills passed.

There are only two and a half weeks until May 20 when the legislature by law must finish its business.

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And this is a budget year, meaning they actually have to pass key bills otherwise there will be a state budget shutdown.

Gov. Tim Walz, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman are all meeting at this hour.

The meeting at the governor’s office is the first of what is expected to be many meetings over the next 18 days, as leaders and the governor try to come to some kind of agreement on everything from that gas tax proposal, to education, to tax proposals.

No specific outcome is expected out of Thursday’s meeting. The hope is that it will set the tone for meetings in the coming days.

“Game time. It’s really time now for the most difficult part of the legislative session to begin,” Hortman said at a Thursday morning press conference.

It may be game time, but what about getting to the finish line? At the beginning of the session, Hortman, Gazelka and Walz agreed to certain deadlines.

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“The next big deadline is May 6, and that is probably the most difficult deadline for us,” Hortman said.

Monday is when Senate and House conference committees have to agree on budget spending numbers. The problem is that both sides continue to cling to their goals.

One of the many sticking points: Walz and health care providers say a 2% tax on medical providers must remain in place. Without it they say there will be a $700 million gap in health care funding each year for health services for low income residents.

“It is a mechanism that provides high quality care to Minnesotans regardless of economic background or geography,” Walz said.

Republicans want that 2% medical provider tax to expire. They say that will lower medical costs.

Despite the differences, Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is upbeat.

“We are working, it is moving forward. We are going to get this stuff done. It is not going to be easy but the process is working,” he said.

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All sides agree the tone of these last minute dealings is a lot better than it has been in recent years, but the question remains whether a better tone can lead to agreement on issues like a gas tax increase, and major spending and tax bills.

Esme Murphy