Real state budget talks start with Minnesota two-step


ST. PAUL — State lawmakers begin the "Minnesota two-step."

That is how Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on Thursday, April 27, described the planned release of spending compromises key legislators have reached as they begin the real work of crafting a two-year state budget expected to hit $46 billion.

The announcement, the first step of the process, is the most concrete sign of progress as lawmakers face a May 22 constitutional deadline to adjourn for the year, unless they need to return to finish the budget in a special session.

Negotiators on House-Senate conference committees next week will work out details about specifically how they want to spend funds, Gazelka and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. Once negotiators finish their work, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton will begin to negotiate a final settlement with lawmakers in the second part of the Minnesota two-step.

"Once they get their work done we can start to work together on a joint resolution," Dayton said.

The governor hosted Daudt and Gazelka for breakfast Thursday, their third meeting of the week. It was not clear what was discussed in the private meeting, but Dayton said no agreements were reached.

Negotiators this week are doing the laborious task of going through bills line by line, agreeing on what they can. However, there is little they can do about spending until they get spending targets from legislative leaders.

If the path Daudt and Gazelka laid out Thursday comes to fruition, it would leave little more than two weeks for legislators and Dayton to pass the two-year budget that begins July 1.

Daudt and Gazelka said the controversial transportation funding package could be the first thing legislative negotiators finalize. "I don't think we are that far apart," the speaker said.

But communities around the state will wait to see what construction projects may be funded by selling bonds.

"I think you will see a bonding bill within the next seven days," Daudt told Forum News Service on Thursday.

When reminded he said that last week, too, the speaker replied: "This time I mean it. Sometimes when I say something, it does not automatically happen like I think it is going to."

On Thursday, Dayton told a celebration of the Human Rights Department's 50th anniversary that the agency was formed under a Republican governor and conservative Legislature. He told reporters that he wants Republicans who now control the Legislature to increase funding to the department, in part so it can deal with an increasing number of minorities in greater Minnesota.

Part of that Legislature 50 years ago was newly elected Cal Larson, who visited the Capitol Thursday to celebrate the anniversary of him taking office in the House. He served there eight years, before spending 20 years in the Senate.

The Fergus Falls Republican said there are lots of changes from when he served.

"It is more of a full-time job today," he said, and things are much more divisive. "We were much more congenial back on those days."

Larson received standing ovations in the House and Senate. He is a Glyndon, Minn., native and Concordia College Moorhead graduate.

Also Thursday, senators voted 64-0 to reform the state board that governors U.S. Bank Stadium, the home of the Minnesota Vikings football team.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, said her bill follows recommendations of the legislative auditor, who criticized the practice of board members and employees hosting family and friends in two luxury suites at no charge. The bill, which also applies to other government bodies that oversee sports facilities, bans family and friends and says even board members must be on official business before they can attend events free.

The legislation also limits the board chairman's salary and gives the Senate the duty of approving board members.

Rosen's bill is similar to one the House passed.