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Key Republican quits working group over racino, cigarette charges
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Sen. Phil Krinkie, a legislative veteran, holds great influence over fiscal conservatives at the Capitol. (MPR file photo)
Talks resumed Thursday to end the state's week-old government shutdown, even as a key Republican dealt a blow to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's effort to pull casino gambling back into the mix.

St. Paul, Minn. — Negotiators met until early Thursday morning, trading budget offers, and they returned to the bargaining table during the afternoon. While they say they're getting closer, some sticking points remain. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's latest offer includes a casino at the Canterbury Park racetrack, and Senate DFL leader Dean Johnson says his caucus doesn't want the so-called "racino" to be part of the final deal.

"No, no support. Even people who had an inkling said, 'get it off the table,'" Johnson said.

Pawlenty and Republican leaders had said they wanted the House and Senate to vote on the issue. But the House adjourned without a racino vote on Thursday.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says he now doesn't know if he has the votes to pass a racino bill, because of the lobbying pressure on legislators.

"I think there's like 70-plus lobbyists working on the anti-racino, competitive gaming issue that they corral 'em and they twist their arms and they get 'em back in fold when they want to do something else," Sviggum said.

Sviggum and Pawlenty's push for the racino also prompted the lead House tax negotiator to say he'll step down from the post. Republican Phil Krinkie of Shoreview says he strongly disagrees with both an expansion of gambling and a proposed cigarette tax increase. He said in a letter to the speaker that he doesn't think he can be effective as chair of the House tax working group. Sviggum says he won't accept Krinkie's resignation.

In addition to the negotiations, a so-called "rump group" of legislators has been meeting for days to try to come up with a budget solution. As many as 90 legislators have come to the group's meetings. One of the group's leaders, DFL Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar, says lawmakers who aren't part of high-level leadership talks are frustrated with the ongoing stalemate.

"And if we don't see some activity in the next day or two, I think you will see some documents and some ideas move to the top and move out of that group and more into a public fashion," he said.

Juhnke says the group may push for votes on issues such as income tax surcharges and closing corporate tax loopholes.

As the shutdown continues, a court-appointed special master is recommending that some highway services be funded. A judge has ordered the state to provide core services relating to the life, health and safety of Minnesotans, and appointed retired justice Ed Stringer to hear disputes over what are essential services.

DFL Sen. Wes Skoglund of Minneapolis asked Stringer to recommend that several highway services be declared essential, such as freeway traffic cameras and crews that help stranded motorists.

"Judge Stringer recommended that the cameras be turned on and that information be made available to everyone, that the highway helpers be put on the job immediately, and that the amber alert signs be turned back on," he said.

Stringer denied Skoglund's request to reopen highway rest stops and restore full drivers' licensing services.

The shutdown has idled nearly 9,000 state workers since July 1. An estimated 1,400 have now used up their vacation time, and are not getting paid. If there's no budget deal by July 15, none of the idled workers will get a paycheck.