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'A very constructive day' in budget talks

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators and their staffs scurried to and fro throughout Friday and by the night the top budget negotiators said they made progress trying to avoid a government shutdown.

"We had a very constructive day," Gov. Mark Dayton said of the day-long budget talks and negotiators plan to continue marathon negotiations today.

The Democratic governor and legislative leaders refused to give details, but said after leaving the meeting Friday night that they had reached agreements on parts of many bills. They would not say if they made progress on the main sticking point: total spending for the next two years.

"We have gone through a number of the expenditure bills and have come to agreement on a considerable parts of them," Dayton said. "We have areas of disagreement that we will come back to, but this was a very worthwhile day."

Still, Dayton would not say if he was confident if a budget agreement could be reached in time to avoid a shutdown next Friday: "I'm not confident of anything except the sun rising. ... We will see what happens tomorrow."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who is hosting the two-day budget marathon, said the group "went through spreadsheets, we went through with highlighters."

Environment, health and human services, higher education and taxes are today's major topics, with budget negotiators circling back to Friday's disagreements.

Zellers, R-Maple Grove, hosted meetings at the State Office Building, across the street from the Minnesota Capitol, in a last-ditch effort to find a way to break a budget impasse that has lasted for months. Without an agreement, the state runs out of money Thursday and much of state government could shut down Friday.

Little news leaked out of the talks, which Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said is a good sign. Information about serious disagreements would find its way out of the fourth-floor meeting room.

"No news is good news," Kelly said.

In the room with the governor and legislative leaders was Dayton's top finance aide, Jim Schowalter, whose birthday was Friday. Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans was summoned, but the main meeting mostly remained an exclusive affair of top elected officials. No legislative staffers were in the main negotiations, but were involved in other meetings.

"This is a good sign," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said of the talks.

Lanning, House state government chairman, was one of those on hand to help.

"This shoulda, coulda happened sooner," he said.

Lanning said Republican lawmakers were prepared to make "very significant changes or movements" in state government financing, a key to a budget agreement. "Without our bill, there is no government."

The Constitution forbids state spending unless approved by the Legislature and the Legislature and Dayton so far only have agreed to fund agriculture programs.

Republicans who hold House and Senate majorities say they will not approve more than $34 billion in the two-year budget to begin Friday. They will not consider a tax increase.

Dayton's budget proposal is for $35.8 billion, which includes $1.8 billion in new taxes.

Lawmakers passed GOP-written budget bills before adjourning on May 23, but Dayton vetoed them.

On Thursday, a Ramsey County judge heard arguments for and against the courts ordering some state spending if a budget is not in place. She said she will rule on the case next week.

On another topic that has put Lanning in the spotlight, he said that problems surrounding a new Vikings stadium financing bill have not been solved.

Stadium supporters had hoped the issue could pass a special legislative session that will be needed to finish the state budget. Time is running out for a stadium if a budget deal is reached this weekend, but if budget talks continue, there would be more time to finish a stadium plan.