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Wheels in motion: Budget negotiators start agreeing on spending targets

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Numbers have started emerging from the inner sanctum of the Governor's residence, where high-level, closed-door negotiations on Minnesota's new budget have been underway all week.

The budget bills approved by the Republican-controlled House and the DFL-led Senate left big disagreements to bridge. Legislative leaders and the governor have been meeting privately this week in hopes of reaching a compromise agreement on overall spending – and how to divide it among the various budget categories.

As Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton reach agreements, they'll provide spending targets to rank-and-file lawmakers, who will then work out the details of a bill.

The Minnesota Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn on Monday. If they're not able to get their work finished by then, a special session would be needed before the new two-year budget cycle starts on July 1.

Here's a look at the first couple of agreements announced late Thursday:

Higher education: $3.058 million

The Star Tribune reports Bakk, Daudt, and Dayton have agreed on just over $3 billion for higher education over the two-year budget. That's $166 million more than what it would take to keep current operations going for the next two years.

Bakk tells the Star Tribune the increase is not large enough to extend tuition freezes at the University of Minnesota and at the State Colleges and Universities system.

Separately, the newspaper says, the bill dedicates $30 million in new spending to the U of M medical school, which has been a priority of Dayton's.

Judiciary: $2.1 billion

MPR News says Sen. Ron Latz, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced at the Capitol that his conference committee received a $2.1 billion spending target from the negotiators, which is $111 million above current spending.

The figure is in between the spending amounts the House and Senate allocated for public safety and courts. But apart from the dollar amount, MPR notes the conference committee will need to address policy differences, such as whether felons should have voting rights restored after serving their time.

After a break for dinner, Daudt, Bakk, and Dayton headed back to the negotiating room for evening talks, but then broke for the night by 9 p.m. Transportation, taxes, and health care are some of the biggest remaining pieces of the budget puzzle.

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