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Leaders, governor in last-ditch budget talks

Minnesota legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty may make one last attempt today to hammer out a budget deal, with a midnight deadline looming.

A meeting was scheduled for 10:45 a.m., the first high-level meeting since mid-day Saturday, but that was delayed until 12:15 p.m. at legislative leaders' request.

If Democratic leaders and Pawlenty do not reach a deal by the midnight constitutionally mandated adjournment time, the Republican governor says he will cut $2.5 billion out of state budget bills legislators passed.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, appeared upset this morning shortly after the House came into session when she told Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, that leaders waited all day Sunday for the governor to call a meeting. She said Commissioner Tom Hanson of Minnesota Management and Budget, Pawlenty's chief budget negotiator, told her and others on a legislative commission in the wee hours of Sunday morning that he "would get back to you" with a firm meeting time.

The governor's office said it was waiting for a budget offer by Democrats who control the Legislature.

Representatives spent hours Sunday afternoon and night debating overturning two Pawlenty vetoes, efforts which failed. A DFL spokesman said there was not even budget talk between legislative and gubernatorial staff members Sunday.

With Pawlenty saying he will cut budgets on his own, he also says he will not call legislators back into a special session to continue budget talks. The governor is the only one who can call a special session.

This is the first time in Minnesota history that a governor is using an executive power known as unallotment to essentially write a budget. In the past, governors occasionally have used unallotment to trim budgets when revenues fell below expectations near the end of a budget cycle.

Pawlenty has signaled that he likely will delay payments to schools to make up much of the remaining deficit. And it appears he will reduce state payments to local governments, perhaps by several hundred million dollars.

The governor's spokesman, Brian McClung, said no timeline has been established for when Pawlenty will make decisions on specifically what to cut.

The state's new two-year budget begins July 1. Short of a budget deal yet today, Pawlenty plans to reduce spending to about $31 billion.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.