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All's quiet on the legislative front

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ST. PAUL -- About the only people in the Minnesota Capitol today will be tourists and tour guides; there will be none of the hectic to-and-fro weekend activity that generally comes when two weeks remain in the legislative session.

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Next week has to be different or little will be accomplished in 2006.

"We're kind of in crunch-time, guys," House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said Friday. "We ought to be here negotiating today."

Instead, Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in the southeast Minnesota tourist town of Lanesboro and Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, was back home getting ready to officiate a wedding in his capacity as Lutheran pastor. Some other key legislators were preparing for today's congressional district conventions.

Legislative leaders say they would like to wrap up the session May 17, although the constitutional deadline is May 22.

The key to getting the session wrapped up appears to be the Senate budget bill, which was supposed to pass last Thursday but an anti-abortion provision and other parts of the bill raised so many questions that Senate Democrats opted to postpone it. If the questions can be resolved Monday, Johnson said the measure will be debated then.

A Friday activity that surprised many observers was a House Taxes Committee vote to raise gasoline taxes 3 cents a gallon this year and another 3 cents next year. The bill still would need to be approved by two more committees that are more likely to oppose it.

Several issues are pending, including:

• A bill funding public works construction projects. A Friday meeting resulted in House and Senate negotiators exchanging offers, but no action was taken. Negotiators are expected to meet again Monday.

• Changes in the budget lawmakers passed last year. The House passed its version, but the abortion issue helped delay the much-richer Senate version.

• Eminent domain changes. A House-Senate conference committee appears one or two meetings away from reaching a deal on proposals to restrict governments taking private land for economic development uses.

• Dedicating part of the state sales tax to outdoors, clean water and arts programs. A conference committee is expected to meet again late next week. If something eventually passes the Legislature, voters would make the final decision Nov. 7.

• University of Minnesota, Twins and Vikings stadiums. The House has passed bills authorizing construction of university and Twins stadiums. The Senate is expected to take up the issues Monday or Tuesday. However, the Senate combines Twins and Vikings stadiums into one bill, which the House opposes. There are significant differences in Gophers stadium bills.

• Tax bills. The House passed a tax rebate, but a broader tax-relief bill that lowers income taxes for many Minnesotans failed in committee late Thursday. The Senate passed a much different tax bill than the House has considered.

• Deep divisions separate the House and Senate on key issues other than eminent domain and the public works bill.

Differing sales tax dedication proposals are difficult to resolve, with the Senate favoring increasing the sales tax and the House wanting to take money from the existing sales tax to fund primarily outdoors-related programs.

Johnson suggested that a compromise could be raising the tax slightly and taking other funds out of the existing sales tax. Sviggum said he could consider such a compromise.

"We're throwing mud at the wall as fast as we can and see what sticks," Johnson said.

Don Davis can be reached at ddavis@forumcomm.com or (651) 290-0707.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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