- Associated Press - Sunday, May 8, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - With just two weeks remaining to sort out broad deals on tax relief, transportation funding and other spending plans, Minnesota’s Legislature is locked in a stare down.

Legislative leaders will begin their private discussions to work out a roadmap to bring the session to a tidy end this week. But the major partisan gaps between proposals, combined with one major bill’s surprise failure on the Senate floor, have left many top lawmakers with dire hopes.

Here’s a look at what’s left to tackle before lawmakers adjourn May 23:

TAXES & TRANSPORTATION

Holdovers from last session’s uncompleted work, a tax bill and a repair package for roads and bridges, are the big-ticket items, but little has changed. The Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican majority House are still pushing wildly different versions.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has put forward a $300 million package of tax cuts. GOP lawmakers have vowed split up the state’s $900 million, but just how that sum will be divided is still unclear.

On transportation, top negotiators started trading offers Friday to narrow down the gap between the Senate’s tax hike-backed plan to drum up $6 billion for fixes and the House’s approach, which relies on existing taxes and some surplus dollars. Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble offered to drop their push for a 16 cent gas tax hike levied at the wholesale level in favor of phasing in a 12 cent bump over the next three years, starting with a 5 cent increase this summer.

But House Speaker Kurt Daudt made it clear there won’t be a quick resolution.

“In order for us to see it as a realistic offer, there needs to be no gas tax,” he said Thursday.

BONDING

The narrow failure of Senate Democrats’ plan this week to borrow $1.5 billion for public works projects was a rarity.

It’s just another sign of broad divides between Democrats and Republicans, who complained the package was far too large. And it further dimmed hopes that the two parties will come together on other outstanding issues, leading some lawmakers to declare the session an early failure.

“I’m not there yet,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Thursday. “But after today, it’s looking like those Republicans that want a do-nothing session, they’re closer to getting their way.”

On the House side, there’s still a round figure: A $600 million so-called bonding bill, with no list of specific projects.

EDUCATION

One of Gov. Mark Dayton’s priorities is no easy sell. Heading into negotiations with Republicans, Dayton and Senate Democrats will fight for an expanded voluntary preschool program that GOP lawmakers left unfunded in their own surplus spending plans.

Other school initiatives aren’t so contentious. Both sides agree on the need to boost the diversity of the state’s teachers with $10 million or more.

DRUG SENTENCING

The last-minute bid to reverse a set of looming reductions to prison sentences for many drug offenders could face its final test - if lawmakers decide to take a vote.

A coalition of county attorneys and law enforcement officials’ put forth an alternative to trump the changes by the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, slashing sentences for some first- and second-degree drug charges while reserving harsher treatment for violent offenders and big-time dealers.

REAL ID

Two months into session, lawmakers still haven’t authorized driver’s license upgrades to satisfy the federal government mandate and ensure residents can board domestic flights.

There’s still plenty of time until the 2018 deadline, but the bills to make the necessary changes haven’t reached final votes on the House and Senate floors. House Republicans’ are proposing to put the changes in place by this fall, while Senate Democrats have suggested a slower rollout.

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