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'A very constructive day' in budget talks

Gov. Mark Dayton tells reporters Friday that he and legislative leaders made progress during daylong budget negotiations. They plan to return to the table for another marathon today. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators and their staffs scurried to and fro throughout Friday and by the night the top budget negotiators said they made progress trying to avoid a government shutdown.

"We had a very constructive day," Gov. Mark Dayton said of the day-long budget talks and negotiators plan to continue marathon negotiations today.

The Democratic governor and legislative leaders refused to give details, but said after leaving the meeting Friday night that they had reached agreements on parts of many bills. They would not say if they made progress on the main sticking point: total spending for the next two years.

"We have gone through a number of the expenditure bills and have come to agreement on a considerable parts of them," Dayton said. "We have areas of disagreement that we will come back to, but this was a very worthwhile day."

Still, Dayton would not say if he was confident if a budget agreement could be reached in time to avoid a shutdown next Friday: "I'm not confident of anything except the sun rising. ... We will see what happens tomorrow."

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who is hosting the two-day budget marathon, said the group "went through spreadsheets, we went through with highlighters."

Environment, health and human services, higher education and taxes are today's major topics, with budget negotiators circling back to Friday's disagreements.

Zellers, R-Maple Grove, hosted meetings at the State Office Building, across the street from the Minnesota Capitol, in a last-ditch effort to find a way to break a budget impasse that has lasted for months. Without an agreement, the state runs out of money Thursday and much of state government could shut down Friday.

Little news leaked out of the talks, which Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Red Wing, said is a good sign. Information about serious disagreements would find its way out of the fourth-floor meeting room.

"No news is good news," Kelly said.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.