After 75-hour special session, Minnesota budget deal done

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- It took three extra days, several sleepless nights and some horse-trading to win crucial Democratic votes, but Minnesota's Legislature finished passing the remainder of a $46 billion budget in a special session early Friday.

The overtime work was slow to get going at the Capitol, where Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders got hung up on the final details of a broad budget agreement that would put $650 million toward tax relief, expand preschool offerings by $50 million and dedicate $300 million to fix roads and bridges. After missing Monday's constitutionally mandated deadline to adjourn without finishing the bulk of a new budget, the Legislature immediately entered a special session -- only to miss its self-imposed goal of wrapping up by 7 a.m. Wednesday.

The House and Senate worked in fits and starts from Thursday afternoon into the early hours Friday, passing budget bills for transportation funding, state government financing, public schools and more. The last bill, which borrows more than $1 billion for public construction projects, passed just before 3 a.m. 

It was a welcome -- if not beloved -- resolution for lawmakers weary from more than 100 hours of near-nonstop work.

"There's no question that it was a grind," House Speaker Kurt Daudt said. "We're happy to be finished."

But a finished budget still left one major question unanswered: Would Dayton sign the bills? He was expected to hold a news conference later Friday.

Well before the bills were sent to his desk, Dayton was facing pressure from Democratic allies to veto several budget bills. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk called on him to strike down the tax bill, warning it would harm the state's financial footing.

"I believe the governor will sign them because we worked with him all the way through," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said.

But the prospect of finishing the budget bills before Memorial Day weekend wasn't always clear -- as late as Thursday afternoon, the path to a resolution looked tougher. Two Republican senators were gone, leaving the GOP short the votes it needed to pass the remaining budget bills, requiring some trade-offs to win critical Democratic votes.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka confirmed they removed a measure that would have changed how labor contracts are ratified from a financing package for state agencies to get two Democrats on board.

That resolution appeared to break a logjam that kept the Legislature largely at a standstill throughout the week. Within minutes of passing the state government budget, the Senate quickly approved a budget for public schools with money to increase the per-pupil funding formula by 2 percent in each of the next two years and additional money for preschool, one of Dayton's priorities.

The Legislature also approved more than $1 billion for public construction projects, including nearly $120 million for the University of Minnesota and over $92 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

But a critical piece of that so-called bonding bill was more than $250 million for transportation infrastructure, part of a bargain struck between Dayton and Republicans that also puts $300 million of the state's $1.65 billion budget surplus toward road and bridge repairs. It comes after more than two years of struggling to find an agreement to fund a backlog of infrastructure projects.

A new health care budget was among the trickiest bills to pass, requiring some last-minute tweaks in the middle of the night to get Dayton's sign-off. It would make more than $450 million in cuts to the state's spending on health care services, but angered conservatives and Democrats alike because it tries to limit the pain of those cuts by emptying a dedicated health care account to cover some of those costs.

"This bill drains the Health Care Access Fund down to zero and leaves us unprotected from the imminent cuts that are coming from the federal government," said Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.

At least one bill was destined for a sure veto. The Legislature on Thursday sent Dayton a mix of labor measures he wanted -- like increased pension funds, extending parental leave for state employees and ratifying union contracts -- and one that met his ire: barring local governments from passing their own minimum wages or sick leave policies.

Dayton called it "unconscionable" and vowed he would strike it down.

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