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Legislature slows budget work as senator heads to ill father

Minnesota state Reps. Mary Murphy of Hermantown and Greg Davids of Preston talk on the House floor Wednesday, May 10, 2017, as fellow lawmakers debate a transportation funding bill. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 5
Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester walks through the Minnesota Senate building May 20, 2016. The building was quiet as legislative leaders met behind closed doors to work out details to end the session. The state Capitol buliding is in the background. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 5
Minnesota state Rep. Paul Torkelson of Hanska tells fellow representatives Wednesday, May 10, 2017, that his transportation funding bill offers money to both highways and transit. Don Davis / Forum News Service3 / 5
Minnesota state Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck, left, talks to Sen. Bill Weber of Luverne in the House chamber Wednesday, May 10, 2017, as lawmakers debate a transportation funding bill. Don Davis / Forum News Service4 / 5
Minnesota House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson of Hanska manages a smile Wednesday, May 10, 2017, as Democrats trash a transportation funding bill he sponsored. Don Davis / Forum News Service5 / 5

ST. PAUL — Work on the Minnesota state budget slowed Wednesday, May 10, to allow a senator to be with her dying father.

House members pressed ahead, passing a tax-cut bill and another funding transportation.

Budget negotiations between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton stopped after the GOP began pushing their budget bills to full House and Senate votes Tuesday.

Legislators Tuesday passed five budget bills, mostly along party lines, and had planned to do the same Wednesday, wrapping up their first shot at a $46 billion, two-year budget. They were to go to the governor, be vetoed and then budget talks could resume.

However, a narrow Republican Senate majority could not pass all of the remaining bills.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, went back home with her father, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. "Sen. Nelson's father is gravely ill and we are trying to work with that. We are playing it by ear. We just don't know. Her being by her dad right now is really important."

With Nelson gone, that leaves 33 Republicans and 33 Democrats in the Senate.

"We can't pass any budget will without 34 Republican votes," Gazelka said.

House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, said highway, bridge and transit funding legislation representatives passed Wednesday likely will not be acceptable to Dayton, although the governor and legislative leaders said they were closer to agreeing on transportation funding than any other major spending bill.

"It is closer than the bills we passed in the last two days," Torkelson said.

Even with the differences and nearing deadline, the chairman said he is optimistic a transportation bill will pass this session.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, D-Minneapolis, said that Democrats want more Twin Cities transit money, even though Republicans have increased their spending on the issue.

A "small bill ... may be the best we can hope for," Hornstein said.

The Republican bill does not include a gasoline tax increase that Dayton wanted, but would pump money from sales tax collected on vehicle-related goods into bridge and highway spending.

Democrats said new money is needed, not moving funds from other parts of the state budget.

"Let's be clear, this is nothing but to get members through the next election cycle," Rep. Michael Nelson, D-Brooklyn Park, said.

Gazelka and Dayton talked by telephone Wednesday, including about the transportation bill.

The House and Senate on Tuesday each passed five of the 10 bills that make up the GOP budget proposal. Republicans put them up for votes after they said negotiations with Dayton were not moving along well.

Dayton has said he will veto each of the budget bills. Five are sitting on his desk, but a spokesman said that he will not veto them until his administration has examined each one.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that budget talks could continue even as Republicans push through budget measures. "The ball is in our court to call the governor back and invite him to the table."

Daudt also said the GOP is optimistic that the Legislature can pass a public works bill, funded by the state selling bonds. "We would look for a bigger bill next year. I know we are looking to make up for lost time."

Also on Wednesday, Dayton vetoed two abortion-related bills. One would have banned state money and the other would have required many abortion clinics to be licensed by the state.

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.