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Blame game begins over slow pace at Capitol
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Sen. Brian LeClair, R-Woodbury, had threatened to vote against a budget bill. But Gov. Pawlenty intervened and changed LeClair's mind. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
After two days of a special session, lawmakers have sent just two budget bills to the governor. The pace is slower than legislative leaders had hoped -- and the largest spending bills are still unresolved. One key lawmaker indicated the session could drag on past the self-imposed deadline of the end of the week.

St. Paul, Minn. — The latest bill on its way to the governor's desk funds state prisons, public safety and the courts. With it, the House and Senate have now completed half of the budget bills. They have yet to pass bills funding K-12 education, transportation, health and human services, and local government aid. House and Senate leaders agreed on a K-12 bill early Thursday morning, and floor action is expected later Thursday.

DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger says Senate Democrats are negotiating to try to make the best out of what they view as bad bills.

"We think this budget is atrocious. But we recognize that the governor is absolutely committed to even shut down state government if we don't proceed," says Hottinger. "That's been resolved, we have to work within the numbers, doesn't mean we have to support the bills in the end."

Hottinger and other legislative leaders have stepped into negotiations on several of the unresolved bills. But Hottinger says leaders aren't "taking over" negotiations. He says they need the expertise of the committee chairs who know their areas of the budget.

Senate education budget chair LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, says he's one of the few people at the Capitol who understands K-12 funding. He says he's gotten a lot of pressure to finish the K-12 bill, but as of Wednesday afternoon he hadn't seen a district-by-district breakdown of the impact of Republican budget proposals.

"Many of my colleagues are not going to support -- of course, they probably aren't going to support it anyway -- but at least we ought to have the courtesy of showing them the impacts of what this means in their districts," says Stumpf. "So that when they go home and their superintendent and their school board members start calling, saying, 'What have you done to us?' that they can point out this is what happens."

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Stumpf isn't the problem. He blames the snail's pace on Senate tax chairman Larry Pogemiller, who doesn't want leadership to resolve his bill funding local units of government.

"Senator Pogemiller can't finish. Senator Pogemiller is the reason that we're still here, and the reason that we would be going into June in the special session," Sviggum says. "He is trying to undermine his caucus leadership, he's trying to not agree to the global agreement."

"That's silly," Pogemiller responds.

Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, says he's not fighting the global deal to not raise taxes to erase a projected $4.2 billion deficit. Pogemiller says he's trying to find more money for local government aid within the spending limit of his bill, and also trying to come up with a formula that distributes the aid more fairly.

"There's no one asking to undo the deal. We accept the constraints of the agreement. All we want now is fairness within the deal. That's all," Pogemiller says. "There's no time limit on fairness."

He points out that lawmakers have already passed the bill that funds state government, so there's no risk of a government shutdown on July 1.

Gov. Pawlenty says the special session shouldn't drag nearly on that long. He'd prefer to see lawmakers stay at the Capitol this weekend if their work isn't done.

"It seems to me that they should stay focused, keep working hard and get this thing done by Friday," says Pawlenty. "I don't think it would be unreasonable for them to be here on Saturday if they need to be -- it would show that they're dedicated to this first and foremost, and I hope they would take advantage of that."

Pawlenty says Minnesota stands to lose $8 million in bond refinancing if budget work isn't completed by the end of the week.

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