- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers prepared to reconvene for a special session as soon as Saturday to ratify budget agreements for schools, state parks, agricultural programs and other areas where service would be disrupted if nothing is done before July.

As a precursor, a joint House and Senate committee was scheduled for Friday to review the new plans, which have been assembled in private. A few items still proved to be vexing, particularly a pending change to the financial audit process for county governments.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who has spent weeks negotiating with Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration and Senate Democratic leaders, said Thursday that he and others involved are anxious to put the overtime dispute behind them. He denied suggestions the Legislature would be rushing bills involving billions of taxpayer dollars so that he and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen could go on a joint trip to Europe associated with a state bid for the 2023 World’s Fair.

“We’re ready to give the employees who potentially could be receiving layoff notices some certainty that we do have an agreement and that we’re wrapping it and closing it now,” Daudt said, adding he will stay in Minnesota until the work is done. “Those travel plans are not affecting our decision-making in any way, shape or form nor are they hurrying us up in any way, shape or form.”

It’s up to Dayton to set the day for lawmakers to convene, and a spokesman said Thursday that decision hasn’t been made.

Top lawmakers reached a deal Thursday on a public works borrowing bill that includes $373 million in construction projects including money to finish the Capitol renovation, undertake a massive highway rerouting project on the Iron Range and build two University of Minnesota animal research labs. One lab will be an isolation unit in St. Paul and the other in Willmar is for poultry research, which comes at the height of a bird flu outbreak that has greatly affected the state’s producers.

“These buildings are not going to be built overnight, but it’s apparent this disease is not going away overnight either,” said House Capital Investment Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska. The bill has $180 million in general obligation bonds, which means it takes three-fifths votes to pass.

Dayton is insisting that lawmakers repeal a recently passed law giving counties greater ability to hire private firms to do reviews now done by the state auditor. But House Republicans are adamant the shift goes ahead as planned.

Meanwhile, rank-and-file legislators have clamored for ample time to digest the bills before voting. Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said the Democratic majority can’t bank on his caucus providing critical votes on a pair of controversial budget bills as it did during the regular session.

Dayton vetoed three budget bills passed in closing hours of that session in May, including two that depended on Republican votes to clear the Senate. A jobs and energy bill took 24 Republican votes as most Democrats defected and an agriculture and environment plan passed with the bare minimum after 11 Republicans voted for it.

As those pacts get renegotiated, Hann said his members are worried about what they’ll look like in the end.

“The support for those bills is going south,” Hann said of Republican backing. “The bills are changing. Things that Republicans liked and voted for are going away. The spending is going up.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said the governor’s blessing on bills should give his Democratic members comfort, but said it’s too soon to tell how things will shake out.

“It’s one of those agreements where no one is really enamored with it,” Bakk said.

One Democratic senator who opposed both of those bills, Roseville’s John Marty, said he’s hopeful but not confident they have improved. Marty said he remains concerned that Minnesota is loosening environmental regulation too much and changing energy policy in a way that will shift costs from businesses to residential customers.

“I want to have a state budget but there are certain lines we shouldn’t cross,” Marty said.

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