- Associated Press - Friday, May 26, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota legislators needed three days of overtime and nearly non-stop negotiations to finish a $46 billion budget early Friday, just hours before a long holiday weekend beckoned.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he wasn’t sure he would sign all the pieces, but conceded it might be the best deal he could get from majority Republicans.

The overtime work was slow to get going at the Capitol, where Dayton and leaders got hung up on the final details of a broad budget agreement that would put $650 million toward tax relief, expand preschool offerings by $50 million and dedicate $300 million to fix roads and bridges. The Legislature passed its final bill at 3 a.m. Friday.

It was a welcome resolution for lawmakers weary from more than 100 hours of near-nonstop work, even if not everyone liked it.

“There’s no question that it was a grind,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. “We’re happy to be finished.”

But a finished budget still left one major question unanswered: Would Dayton sign the bills?

The Democrat said Friday afternoon he was “genuinely undecided,” weighing his concerns about a tax bill he worried would risk the state’s financial stability against the risk of a possible government shutdown if he vetoes them. He said he planned to make up his mind by Tuesday.

“It’s far from what I would like to see … but that’s the unavoidable reality of divided government,” Dayton said.

After missing Monday’s constitutionally mandated deadline to adjourn without finishing the bulk of a new budget, the Legislature immediately entered a special session - only to miss its self-imposed goal of wrapping up by 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The House and Senate worked in fits and starts from Thursday afternoon into the early hours Friday, passing budget bills for transportation funding, state government financing, public schools and more. Other budget bills were passed in the regular session.

“I believe the governor will sign them because we worked with him all the way through,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.

But the prospect of finishing the budget bills before Memorial Day weekend wasn’t always clear - as late as Thursday afternoon, the path to a resolution looked tougher. Two Republican senators were gone, leaving the GOP short the votes it needed to pass the remaining budget bills, requiring some trade-offs to win critical Democratic votes.

Gazelka confirmed they removed a measure that would have changed how labor contracts are ratified from a financing package for state agencies to get two Democrats on board.

That resolution appeared to break a logjam, and within minutes of passing the state government budget, the Senate quickly approved a public schools budget that increased the per-pupil funding formula by 2 percent in each of the next two years and added money for preschool, one of Dayton’s priorities.

The Legislature also approved more than $1 billion for public construction projects, including nearly $120 million for the University of Minnesota and over $92 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

But a critical piece of that so-called bonding bill was more than $250 million for transportation infrastructure, part of a bargain struck between Dayton and Republicans that also puts $300 million of the state’s $1.65 billion budget surplus toward road and bridge repairs. It comes after more than two years of struggling to find an agreement to fund a backlog of infrastructure projects.

A new health care budget was among the trickiest bills to pass, requiring some last-minute tweaks in the middle of the night to get Dayton’s sign-off. It would make more than $450 million in cuts to the state’s spending on health care services, but angered conservatives and Democrats alike because it empties a dedicated health care account to cover some of those costs.

“This bill drains the Health Care Access Fund down to zero and leaves us unprotected from the imminent cuts that are coming from the federal government,” said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.

At least one bill was destined for a sure veto. The Legislature on Thursday sent Dayton a mix of labor measures he wanted - like increased pension funds, extending parental leave for state employees and ratifying union contracts - and one that met his ire: barring local governments from passing their own minimum wages or sick leave policies.

Dayton called it “unconscionable” and vowed he would strike it down.


Follow Kyle Potter on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kpottermn and follow Steve Karnowski at https://twitter.com/skarnowski

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