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Session deadline bearing down as lawmakers look for compromises

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There's one week left in the 2015 legislative session and lawmakers are beginning their last week in regular session with no deal on a number of key issues.

Legislative leaders including House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk met Sunday afternoon and evening with two of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s commissioners, as well as Legislative Auditor James Nobles for private budget talks.

The Pioneer Press reported that lawmakers are divided along party lines about how much to spend on education, transportation, health care and taxes. The Star Tribune reported that legislators are facing a "volatile mix peppered with dozens of...disputes large and small between the DFL and GOP."

MPR News reports that funding health care remains a major stumbling block, with House Republicans and Senate DFL'ers facing a $1.4 billion gap in their competing budget bills for health and human services. House GOP plans would eliminate the 20-year-old MinnesotaCare program and move its low-income participants onto MNsure. DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has repeatedly said that proposal "is a non-starter."

House Republicans are also seeking big new tax cuts, while Senate Democrats seek a substantial transportation spending increase that could only be paid for by some type of tax increase on drivers.

"They’ve got a really tough uphill argument to make that we need a gas tax,” Daudt said Sunday.

Lawmakers do have the financial padding of a projected $2 billion budget surplus as they work to strike deals on issues still not resolved. The governor, Bakk, Daudt and other leaders will have a busy week as they work to resolve numerous issues in time to avoid a special session.

“It’s doable. But it’s going to take a lot of cooperation on their part,” Dayton said Sunday, referring to House Republicans. For the session to end on time, Dayton said, Republicans must accept they are dealing with a DFL governor and Senate majority, and only expect to get about a third of what they want.

Daudt said he remains optimistic about an agreement coming together to adjourn the session on time.

If lawmakers don't get their work done in time, it will be more problematic than usual. Contractors working on renovating the Capitol plan to start clearing out the House and Senate chambers the day that session ends. A delay brought on by a special session would slow the timeline for completion and would likely add to the cost for the renovation.

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