- Associated Press - Saturday, May 21, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers began a marathon Saturday to piece together spending plans for a $900 million budget surplus, racing toward a midnight Sunday deadline as legislative leaders tried to finalize a compromise that could satisfy Gov. Mark Dayton.

Legislative leaders holed up for hours of private meetings throughout the day, stretching into early Sunday morning. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said late Saturday eening they had reached broad agreements on budget areas that would meet Dayton’s demands, a list that includes $25 million for a preschool program that Republicans have previously rejected.

“We’re really trying to honor what we believe to be the governor’s package,” Daudt said.

Dayton has said those funding pieces are integral to unlocking his support for a $260 million package of tax cuts and credits that would offer property tax relief to farmers and businesses, create a new tax credit for college graduates with loan debt and expand aid to Minnesota parents with childcare costs. Earlier Saturday, Bakk told reporters they were zeroing in on a package that would fund a phased-in preschool program, put $35 million toward expanding broadband Internet infrastructure and another $35 million to tackle racial disparities - nearly all below what Dayton had requested.

“I believe the governor will reluctantly sign the bill with that funding at those levels,” Bakk said, adding that he thought the funding for broadband expansion was too low.

Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said the governor was awaiting further details before making any comments.

It’s not the Legislature’s first brush with deadline pressure or the grueling legislative pace that comes with it. But even as leaders expressed optimism they could finish their work before midnight Sunday, the fate of other major pieces they hoped to tackle this session was unclear.

Negotiators from the House and Senate were still trading offers to fund a transportation package into Saturday evening. Proposals to use surplus dollars, borrow hundreds of millions dollars more, use existing taxes on auto parts sales and authorize a quarter-cent sales tax in the metro area for transit projects were all in the mix, but what combination of those would crack a stalemate was unclear.

“We don’t know yet how that’s going to shake out,” Daudt said.

The size and scope of a public works construction package was also a matter of ongoing debate. The two sides will have to narrow the gap between the Democrat-led Senate’s proposed $1.4 billion bonding bill and the $800 million package favored in the GOP-controlled House.

As top leaders focused on big-picture numbers, rank-and-file lawmakers started to digest the details of the compromises as they trickled in and prepared to pass the legislation in a flurry of upcoming floor votes. Rep. Steve Drazkowski said lawmakers’ attitudes appeared to be shifting toward hope they could get it done - particularly on the tax bill, which he said was most important to him.

“I think people seem to be a lot more optimistic than they were a day or two ago,” the Mazeppa Republican said.



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