Friday, May 2, 2008

Session end looming

With May 19 deadline nearing, lawmakers continue session-ending negotiations Gov. Tim Pawlenty and DFL legislative leaders have been trading budget offers over the last couple weeks in order to eliminate a $935 million projected budget deficit and go home. Some of the sticking points include the governor’s proposed property tax cap and the shift of $125 million from the health care access fund to balance the budget. In Gov. Pawlenty’s latest offer this week, the Central Corridor light-rail line that runs between Minneapolis and St. Paul is back in play. In exchange for the Central Corridor, Pawlenty proposed including the Minneapolis Veterans Home and a new state park on Lake Vermilion in any final budget solution.

The conference committee charged with solving the budget deficit continues to meet, and higher education was on the agenda this week. Higher education chairs Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL- St. Paul, and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, explained what is in the higher education article of the budget bill. At the time of this writing, the cuts to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, the University of Minnesota and the Office of Higher Education have not been presented or discussed. Lawmakers are waiting for an agreement between legislative leaders and the governor before they determine the final cuts. As a reminder, the House bill includes a cut of $6.17 million for the system, and the Senate bill includes a cut of $6.5 million but would reallocate $1.5 million of that amount for other purposes. Speaker of the House Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said Democrats would like to reach a deal with the governor when they meet this weekend on the omnibus budget bill in an effort to get the budget bill through conference committee by Monday.

As for next week, after trying to finish conference committee bills early in the week, legislative leaders have said their big focus will be on property taxes. Speaker Kelliher has called the DFL leadership’s property tax proposal “governor friendly” in an attempt to negotiate.

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