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Legislature takes overtime to balance budget

ST. PAUL -- It took more than 10 extra hours, but Minnesota legislators finally finished their most important job of 2010 and went home for the year this morning.

The Housed voted 97-32 and the Senate 52-14 for a bill that covered a nearly $3 billion state budget deficit. The final vote came at 10:30 a.m. today and ended a brief special session called because lawmakers could not meet their midnight deadline.

The measure in a large part follows budget cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty made last summer, an action the Minnesota Supreme court says was illegal.

The bill:

• Delays $1.9 billion of state payments to schools from the current two-year budget into future budgets.

• Cuts nearly $1 billion in spending, a figure that includes some delayed payments.

• Allows Pawlenty or the new governor who takes office in January to take part in an expanded Medical Assistance program to provide health care to poor Minnesotans with the state spending $188 million to leverage $1.4 billion from Washington.

• Requires that $408 million that Congress may appropriate for Minnesota to be used to pay the state's bills.

• Preserves funding for military, public safety, veterans, corrections and nursing homes.

Aids to local governments will be cut more than $300 million because, Pawlenty said, it is one of the few places that the federal government allows the state to cut.

Among the biggest cuts is a $100 million reduction in higher education spending. Also, the renters' refund will be reduced $52 million and $166 million of sales and corporate tax refunds will be delayed.

Health and human services programs will be cut $85 million.

Legislators accepted Pawlenty's wish to not cut most state agencies any more than in earlier cuts. Lawmakers had planned to cut budgets a half percent, for a $14 million savings.

The bill was crafted late Sunday and early today from a measure lawmakers passed a day earlier. But that original bill did not meet Pawlenty's requirements. A series of negotiating sessions followed until a deal was reached at about 11:40 p.m. Sunday.

That was too late to write the bill, so the regular legislative session adjourned by midnight and a special session convened soon afterwards. Most of the special session was spent waiting for the bill to be completed and prepared for debate in the House and Senate.

Once the agreement was reached, several days of partisan bickering ended.

"We have reached a bipartisan agreement to bring the legislative session to a productive and good conclusion," Pawlenty said.

It was a good outcome, "considering the economic shape we are in," House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said.

The special session hit a bump in the road this morning when Democrats began debating an education-related bill that was not part of the special session deal with Pawlenty.

Republicans held off the effort to debate the bill on an 85-43 vote, with 90 needed to open debate.

"This is absolutely wrong to try to jam us at this time," Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said. "A deal is a deal, folks."

While in a House Republican briefing on the budget measure, Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, briefly passed out, fell and hit his head. He was conscious when an ambulance took him to nearby Regions Hospital, where he was examined but returned to the Capitol in time to vote on the budget bill.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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