‘We want a budget deal’: Lawmakers, governor to meet over weekend

With a $935 million budget deficit and the end of the legislative session looming, lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty will be meeting at the Capitol Saturday morning at 10:30.

This touched off a rash of rhetorical posturing at a number of media conferences today, as leadership from both the DFL and GOP stepped into the all-spin zone.

“We’ll have a busy weekend,” noted Senate Assistant Majority leader Tarryl Clark. “I apologize if anyone thought they would get a weekend.”

House and Senate versions of the budget bill are in conference committee; conferees have until midnight Monday to hash out some sort of agreement. But that won’t stop lawmakers and the guv from doing work in the meantime. “We want a budget deal,” Clark said. “The conference committee ought to be meeting over the weekend, and meeting with a sense of urgency.”

Clark and the House DFL leaders, Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Majority Leader Tony Sertich, emphasized that the two parties and the governor were not that far apart on many issues. “His public comments lead you to believe that the legislative [proposals] are radically different,” Clark offered, saying bottom-line difference amounts to less than 1 percent of the total state budget. “[But] our proposal does really mirror his.”

To allot or unallot …

Clark rattled off a number of issues where there may be sticking points, including funding for education, health care and human services. And she bemoaned the notion that Pawlenty might “unallot,” which means the governor can cut budgets without legislative approval to balance the books. “It’s may be a posturing position,” Clark said of Pawlenty’s comments that unallotment is not out of the question.

GOP leaders made it clear that they don’t want unallotment either, but they hardly sounded the conciliatory note the Democrats did. David Senjem, the Senate minority leader, argued that DFLers had spent too much time on other issues—like the gas tax and an overstuffed bonding bill—while they should have been addressing the budget shortfall all along. There is still plenty of ill will from early session partisanship.

“They’ve failed miserably all of this year, all of this session, to bring a budget,” Senjem said at a Senate Republican news conference, noting a nearly 2 to 1 DFL majority in both chambers. “All they’ve done is criticize. I look forward to some leadership.”

Senjem concluded that “if there’s a will,” something could be hashed out over the weekend because “we don’t’ want to go to unallotment.”

At the House DFL press gathering, Anderson Kelliher and Sertich addressed the unallotment issue as well.

“It’s not unreasonable for the governor to remind us he has some tools in his toolbox,” Anderson said, noting that such statements from Pawlenty were “unhelpful.” “It might be an axe.”

Sertich, for his part, said that despite the quickie weekend meeting (Clark figured it would last less than an hour), the looming conference committee deadline and the May 19 end of the session, there was still plenty of time for the three sides to reach an agreement.

“If he’s not there today, hopefully he’ll be there over the weekend,” Sertich said of Pawlenty’s inclination to compromise, “so we can wrap that up.”

Bridge compensation deal reached

In another development, the House and Senate have agreed to a $38 million fund for I-35W bridge collapse survivors and the surviving family members. Pawlenty has said he’ll sign off on the deal. Session Daily, part of the House Public Information Services, has the details.

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