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Agreements prove elusive at Capitol
Legislative leaders negotiated into the night Saturday, but didn't reach agreement on the three outstanding budget bills or on a bonding bill. The rest of the Legislature has gone home after sending a nuclear waste storage bill to the governor.

St. Paul, Minn. — On the fifth day of the special session, House and Senate leaders and the governor's staff shuffled from one closed-door talk to another. They hoped to reach agreement on the Health and Human Services Budget, the tax bill and a transportation budget. They would also like to wrap up work on a bonding bill. Early in the day, Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum and others were optimistic that they could reach a deal on the remaining items. As the talks went into the evening, it was evident that a deal wasn't going to get done.

"Negotiations are a tough thing and negotiations get harder. Sometimes the closer you get in the agreement, sometimes that last step is the hardest one," Sviggum said.

Sviggum says there are about a half dozen major issues that need to be resolved. They include how much local government aid the state should provide and who should be eligible for state-sponsored health insurance. Those issues have been the major sticking points since lawmakers agreed on the overall spending targets for each budget bill last week.

Gov. Pawlenty's chief of staff says he hopes they can resolve their differences quickly. Charlie Weaver says he thinks once agreement is reached on one part of the budget, other agreements will quickly follow.

"These are really tough big issues that mean a lot going into Minnesota's future," he said. DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger says they'll continue working over the weekend. He says he hopes they can reach agreement on the remaining budget bills in time for floor votes on Tuesday. That's when the entire Legislature comes back to work.

"We're committed to getting this done. I know it sounds like it's taking a long time but the complexity of the issues and the great gulf we're trying to get done is a difficult one," according to Hottinger.

Hottinger and Speaker Sviggum sent most lawmakers home after session on Saturday.

Before adjourning, the House voted 80-to-45 for a bill expanding waste storage at the Prairie Island nuclear plant. The bill allows Xcel Energy to keep the plant open until the end of its license, and puts the issue of future waste in the hands of the state's Public Utilities Commission rather than the Legislature.

Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, says the bill sends the message that lawmakers aren't interested in phasing out nuclear power.

"Now we said, it's full speed ahead on into the future. And we so want to take the barriers away, we don't even want this to come back to the Legislature." Hausman says the bill also contains incentives for a planned coal-gasification plant on the Iron Range, and doesn't expand the use of wind energy beyond current law. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, says the bill requires Xcel to increase its reliance on renewable energy.

"You can't say going forward with 400 more megawatts of new wind -- 200 of those 400 have to be small wind -- is going backwards. We've only got about 400 megawatts of wind in this state right now," Westrom said.

Westrom says he's confident Gov. Pawlenty will sign the bill.

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