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King Tut, Jello show things are not well in Capitol

Two colorful quotes demonstrate the tough state of the Minnesota Legislature.

"Anyway, back to King Tut," Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, told fellow senators as she returned to a lengthy discussion of all things Tut and dinosaur, saying the Science Museum of Minnesota would be hurt by a bill cutting state programs.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, showed the mood of chief policymakers when he described Gov. Mark Dayton's negotiations' strategy: "It's been like nailing Jello to a tree."

Democrat Dayton said Wednesday that he was growing increasingly pessimistic that he and the Legislature can agree on a budget by Monday, the day the state Constitution says the Legislature must end its 2011 session. Short of what many in the Capitol consider a miracle, it appears Dayton will need to call a special legislative session to finish the budget.

Republican legislators mounted an around-the-clock campaign to pass budget bills that appeared destined to be vetoed.

The House met through the night Tuesday, finally heading home at 6:03 a.m. Wednesday. The same was expected Wednesday night and this morning.

The Senate began its work on the budget at 8 a.m. Wednesday, with senators expecting a late-night session.

Soon after the Senate began debating reducing the number of state employees Wednesday morning, a House committee sent to the full House a bill aimed at forbidding gay marriages. The bill would ask the public to amend the state Constitution next year to define marriage as being between one man and one woman.

The House Rules Committee voted 13-12 in favor of the bill in a mostly party-line vote. Rep. Tim Kelly of Red Wing cast the only Republican vote against the measure.

At the vote, some in the crowd cried. Two state troopers dragged one protester out of the Capitol meeting room.

Budget debate took up most of Wednesday, liberally sprinkled with accusations that neither side wants to negotiate seriously.

Republicans offer a $34 billion, two-year budget and refuse to spend any more money. Dayton on Monday said he would reduce his tax increase plan by half, leaving a $35.8 billion budget target, but insisting his remaining tax hike remain.

The House and Senate should finish passing all nine budget and tax bills today.

Dayton plans to meet with Republican legislators at 1:15 p.m. today, but no one expects him to convince them to support his $1.8 billion tax increase, featuring a higher tax on Minnesota's best earners.

Republican leaders and Dayton said they are available to meet about the budget, but they did not get together Wednesday.

"I don't agree on anything yet," Dayton said of the budget bills.

The governor said that he and lawmakers need to agree on the overall budget number before making other progress.

"They want it all their way," Dayton said. "I am supposed to go all the way over to their budget entirely."

Republicans claimed they could make no progress on budget compromises because Dayton aides said they could not negotiate on behalf of the governor. And some said Dayton's folks are too interested in building a Vikings football stadium.

"They seem to be more focused on the Vikings stadium than on the budget," said Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo.

The chief Senate transportation funding negotiator, Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, complained that he has not been able to meet with Dayton and Dayton's aides say they cannot negotiate a budget deal.

Despite the problems, Zellers pledged to keep working. "We are not going to quit in the third quarter of a tie game."