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With Legislature's break near, signs of trouble looming
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Sen. Keith Langseth, left, and Sen. Dean Johnson, right, raised warning flags Friday about the bonding bill. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Warning signs surfaced Friday that a construction projects bill all sides hoped to finish by Easter is stuck in its tracks and a Republican resolution to hold the line on state spending is in trouble.

The red flags come as the Legislature's mid-session break draws near. And even though lawmakers typically backload their work, last year's meltdown is causing some senior legislators to take the informal status check more seriously this time around.

The bonding bill, which authorizies state borrowing for a range of building projects, was a casualty of the 2004 stalemate. As a result, Capitol leaders wanted one approved early this year so delayed projects wouldn't miss another construction season.

The House and Senate quickly passed bills, although they were about $200 million apart. Negotiators from both chambers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's office haven't figured out how much to spend, although a range of $850 million to $950 million has been discussed.

The bill's impact is wide-reaching, as the final version is likely to contain road and bridge repairs, college buildings and sewer projects throughout the state.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said if the bill isn't done by Easter, he fears it will get tangled up in the end-of-session bargaining, pushing back project start dates and exposing them to higher material costs and borrowing rates.

"If this bonding bill gets shoved clear 'til the end, I predict meltdown on the whole thing," said Langseth, chairman of the Senate Capital Investment Committee.

His House counterpart, Rep. Dan Dorman, R-Albert Lea, doesn't dispute that prediction.

Dorman was making waves on another major front Friday: the two-year state budget.

He said he would push to add $750 million to a budget resolution developed by House GOP leaders. Dorman said it would free up more money for education.

With the House divided 68-66 in favor of Republicans, the defection of even a couple Republican legislators can shift power to Democrats. Dorman said he thinks he has five to eight Republicans willing to join him in amending the budget resolution.

The budget resolution sets the maximum amount the House will agree to spend for the 2006-07 budget cycle. As it stands, that would be $29.8 billion - anything more than that would require a tax increase.

Dorman said that while the resolution does not specify where the extra money would come from, nor does it have to, he would prefer to see a sales tax on clothing. House research, he said, indictates the tax would easily raise more than $750 million.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said he won't hold a vote on the resolution if he senses it is in trouble. He said a natural growth in tax revenue is driving up the budget as it is.

"A two-billion dollar increase over last biennium ought to be enough," he said.