- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s Legislature may be finished with its weekslong debate over relief for Iron Range workers, but the partisan divide that remains could shape the remainder of lawmakers’ work this year.

Legislative leaders and nearly all 201 rank-and-file lawmakers backed extending unemployment for out-of-work miners in northeastern Minnesota, but it took three weeks and countless hours of public bickering to pass the measure Gov. Mark Dayton signed Thursday.

What lies ahead for the Republican-run House and Democrat-controlled Senate in the final seven weeks of the session - massive proposed deals on transportation, tax relief and other spending priorities - will require compromise, but the long slog to finish what looked to be a slam-dunk deal on unemployment showed nothing will come easy.

“It spells real trouble for the session,” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said.

While Senate Democrats are pursuing $1 billion-plus in public works construction and a tax hike to fund road and bridge repairs, Daudt and Republicans are pressing for a tax-free transportation package and a hefty, unspecified sum of tax cuts.

Lawmakers took off early last week for an Easter break, and don’t plan to pivot to major budget issues like taxes for several weeks.

A dispute over tax breaks dragged out what was supposed to be a quick fix for extending benefits for Iron Range workers who had exhausted their unemployment, running down a third of the 10-week session’s clock. The two parties ultimately agreed late Thursday, but it tested relationships between the Legislature’s top negotiators: Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt.

“If there are some things that he needs in this session, not giving me an emergency situation up north probably doesn’t help him accomplish some of the goals he might have for this session,” Bakk said last week.

The pair couldn’t even agree on whether to be hopeful or pessimistic about the coming weeks.

Daudt said he didn’t see any lingering animosity that could harm negotiations later in the session. “We worked together, and I think it says a lot about our ability to do that for the rest of the session,” the Crown Republican said.

Representatives from Minnesota’s Iron Range hope that getting the unemployment checks out the door would clear the air and get the heavier legislative debates moving.

“I think that things can start to move a lot quicker now that we feel we’re working in good faith with another again,” said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia.

Meanwhile, Dayton, who has hopes of expanding preschool options and securing $100 million for a broadband Internet build-out, noted the early trouble but said he thinks the Legislature can move past it.

“I’m not going to pre-judge the session based on the first 25 percent of it,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Burbach contributed to this report.

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