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DFL blinks, Republicans win the battle of the budget
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Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger said the DFL might have lost the day, but would continue its opposition to the Republican budget. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Senate Democrats say they've abandoned their efforts to raise taxes to balance the budget this session. DFL leaders say since Republicans won't budge from their no-tax-increase stance, a prolonged battle will only cause further pain to Minnesotans. Their announcement resolves the biggest debate of the legislative session, but many other details must still be worked out.

St. Paul, Minn. — Democrats have been arguing for months that Gov. Pawlenty's budget proposal would hurt Minnesota's quality of life. DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter says Democrats still believe Pawlenty's budget makes extreme cuts to health care programs, nursing homes, higher education and child care. But he says they agreed to withdraw their budget plan - a mix of cuts and tax increases - to break the legislative stalemate.

"Governor Pawlenty has made it very clear in the last couple of days that he would shut down state government rather than compromise. Governor Pawlenty may be willing to gamble with the lives of Minnesotans but Democrats are not," he said.

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Image Speaker Steve Sviggum

Hottinger says Democrats won't block a Republican budget, but they won't willingly participate in it either. He says Gov. Pawlenty will have to persuade all 31 Senate Republicans to vote for budget bills. Hottinger's caucus will put up the remaining three votes necessary for bills to pass.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna says Senate DFLers have abandoned ship.

"And they can all go home, and we'll run the conference committees, we'll run everything; they're really not needed anymore," Day said.

Day has suddenly become a much more significant player in budget talks. He says if he has to put up 31 votes, Senate Republicans should be able to get more of what they want in budget bills. Day's pet project is the "racino," which would add 2,000 slot machines at the Canterbury Park racetrack. He says he hasn't given up on the idea, but admits it may not happen this year.

Senate DFL leaders are opposed to a racino, Gov. Pawlenty doesn't like the idea, and his chief of staff, Charlie Weaver, says he thinks racino is off the table.

Despite his no new taxes pledge, once this bill becomes law Minnesotans will know that the costs are enormous.
- Sen. John Hottinger

"Senator Day is a major player, but this is a major capitulation for the Democrats, and I think at this point, we don't consider racino any more in play, given this compromise," Weaver said.

Weaver says Republicans aren't gloating about the DFL announcement, but says the governor continues to believe that his budget will result in a better Minnesota.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, says Democrats disagree, but had to face the reality that Pawlenty wouldn't budge from the no-tax-increase pledge he signed during the campaign. She says Minnesotans will now see the impact of the governor's budget.

"I don't think we're going to get to next session without a budget crisis. I mean, I think the economists who have come and talked to us have made it clear that this budget is not sustainable for our state. So this house of cards is going to crumble. Our state is going to be in trouble economically because of this budget. We can't stop it," she said.

Now that the fundamental tax question has been resolved, negotiators are still working on other contentious issues, ranging from Gov. Pawlenty's proposed pay freeze for state employees to tax-free economic development zones. They say it's unlikely lawmakers will finish all of their work by Monday's deadline to adjourn, but could wrap things up by the end of the week.

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