- Associated Press - Sunday, May 21, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - With roughly 24 hours remaining, the Minnesota Legislature finally broke the budget logjam Sunday night, sending several budget bills to Gov. Mark Dayton as the Democratic governor and Republican leaders worked to iron out their remaining disputes that could delay a deal and send the session into overtime.

The House and Senate sent an agriculture budget to Dayton’s desk, compromised on agricultural buffers to pass the environmental bill and approved funding for Minnesota’s state colleges and universities, over Democratic objections that it underfunds the University of Minnesota. But that still leaves the bulk of a two-year budget of more than $45 billion unfinished, and it was unclear exactly where the remaining budget bills stood as lawmakers worked Sunday night into Monday morning.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt said they still hoped to reach final deals with the governor on $660 million in tax breaks, public school funding and some cuts to public health care spending. But it was clear they were in for more than 24 hours of non-stop work for any chance at finishing before Monday’s midnight deadline.

“I don’t see any other way to get it done on time, and we all want to get it done on time,” Gazelka said. “In the end, I would love to have a handshake and say, ‘We did it.’”

The two sides entered the week with drastically different visions for the state’s next budget. Dayton called for a larger, $46 billion spending package with extra funding for a prized preschool program while Republicans pushed for a smaller budget with more than $1 billion in tax breaks.

As lawmakers settled in for an all-nighter - one House member was spotted carrying a small pillow from her desk back to her office - legislative leaders continued to meet throughout Sunday evening. And they were making some headway.

Under a veto threat from the governor, Sen. Roger Chamberlain, the Senate’s top tax expert, confirmed Republicans had dropped their insistence on putting tax credits toward scholarships for Minnesota students to attend private schools - a top prize for the GOP. He said the two sides were closing in on a deal that would grant $660 million in tax breaks, including relief for college graduates with loan debt and a freeze in the statewide property tax.

“It’s not as much as we’d like, but there’s enough in there that hopefully we can help the economy,” he said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and Dayton also averted a stalemate over funding for environmental agencies that was intertwined in a GOP-led attempt to delay by two years the governor’s marquee water quality measure requiring buffer strips between farmland and public waterways, which is set to launch in November. Instead, the two sides agreed to grant farmers an eight-month grace period to get the buffers in place without risking punishment or fines, top negotiator Rep. Dan Fabian said.

A higher education budget finally materialized Sunday night and was quickly sent to Dayton’s desk - but not without a fight from Democrats. Though it still increased funding to the University of Minnesota, Sen. Jason Isaacson and fellow Democrats criticized the budget, saying it wouldn’t prevent tuition increases at the state’s largest public university.

The Legislature is no stranger to deadline pressure - deals are often struck in the final hours of session, requiring final votes in the waning minutes. Daudt was starting to worry they were quickly running out of time to finalize agreements on the remainder of the budget and leave enough time for bill language to be drafted. A brief special session to wrap up after Monday’s deadline was a possibility.

“We really need to come to an agreement here very shortly on most of it to make sure we have the time to get it done,” Daudt said.

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