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Lawmakers crank up effort to resolve remaining budget details

St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) The state Capitol was humming Sunday as House-Senate panels hammered out the final details of sprawling bills for public schools, health care and taxes.

With the marquee disputes settled in a budget deal struck early Saturday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders, Sunday's haggling revolved around less glamorous issues - including payments to hospitals, facilities for the developmentally disabled, child care, local sales taxes and modifications to the federal No Child Left Behind testing law.

"We're pretty much in agreement. It's now just around the fringes," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, who presided over a meeting of the working group for K-12 education. "I think we're ready to wrap it up."

Stumpf said the education panel aimed to finish its spending bill Sunday evening. The heads of the health and welfare working group said they expected to meet into the evening while the taxes panel started meeting in the early evening.

Under the leaders' agreement to end Minnesota's historic partial government shutdown and bring 8,900 state employees back to work, the panels must complete their work by 5 p.m. Monday.

The full Legislature doesn't return to the Capitol until Wednesday, when both chambers are expected to vote on all remaining budget bills. The pressure is on to finish the state's roughly $30 billion, two-year budget before a temporary spending plan runs out at midnight Thursday.

Legislation approved by the House-Senate working groups won't be the final word because lawmakers can still try to amend those bills during floor debates. As part of the budget agreement, Pawlenty promised he wouldn't veto the major provisions worked out in top-level talks.

That deal would send $800 million in new spending to public schools, preserve MinnesotaCare health insurance for everyone who's currently eligible and create a new tobacco fee - 75 cents on a pack of cigarettes - as the major new source of revenue.

It also earmarks $78 million to encourage performance-based pay raises for teachers and lifts a $5,000 cap on outpatient treatment for MinnesotaCare recipients.

The lead health care negotiators, Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, both said they were struggling to allocate the funds they had at their disposal. Berglin was pushing to spend more on child care and reduce the amount paid by Medical Assistance patients for prescription drugs and doctor visits, while Bradley said those items would strain the available budget.

"Everybody knows the money is really tight," Bradley said. "The Senate has some high priorities in areas that are high-cost."

But he said both sides expect to meet the Monday deadline.

Lawmakers have blown by several other major deadlines this year, including the constitutionally mandated end of the regular session May 23 and the end of the state's fiscal year on June 30.

The lack of a full budget led to the partial shutdown, which started July 1. For eight days, about a fifth of the state's work force was locked out, highway rest stops were barricaded and services including day care referrals and new driver's license applications stopped.

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