- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Call it a stalemate, holding pattern or something else entirely, but Minnesota’s Legislature made little headway Thursday on the major transportation funding and tax relief decisions it’s faced with making in the final days of session.

Legislative leaders shared few details Thursday after a series of on-and-off private meetings that stretched into the evening. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt each said they’re closing in on how much of a $900 million budget surplus to put toward tax relief, but wouldn’t say what that may look like.

And despite vowing last week that resolving a wide divide over how to fund billions of dollars in road and bridge repairs over the next decade was their first order of business, the focus appears to have shifted to taxes and other spending priorities. The transportation debate has been hung up largely on Republican opposition to paying for mass transit projects like a new light-rail train - Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats insist that any funding package include money for such projects.

“We just need to start getting things moving,” Daudt said, referencing the logistical hurdle of getting bills formally written and processed in order to get a deal finalized. “All of that stuff takes time, so today is the day we’ve got to make some big movements.”

There’s plenty at stake as the Legislature nears its May 23 deadline, hoping to divvy up a $900 million budget surplus through tax credits and extra funding for government programs. But the Legislature’s split-party control that brought lawmakers to the brink of a government shutdown is again proving thorny: Few major decisions have been made in hours of private meetings between legislative leaders.

Even Dayton was hungry to learn more. He said Thursday he has no information on the progress in private negotiations and jokingly asked reporters for some.

The failure of a package of more than $800 million in public construction projects on the House floor Thursday added to the heap of unresolved disputes legislative leaders will have to tackle in the session’s homestretch. Teams of negotiators from the House and Senate - where a much larger package also failed - were set to start working toward a compromise Friday morning.

One factor behind the slow - or nonexistent - progress: The pressure to get a deal isn’t nearly as intense as last year, when the Legislature was tasked with passing a two-year budget. Lawmakers could leave this year without spending another cent, leaving the entire $900 million sum on the state’s bottom line.

“There’s not the kind of urgency that revolves around getting a budget done,” Bakk said.


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