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By Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published May 15 2010

Budget deadline looms over lawmakers

ST. PAUL – The Minnesota Senate leader blames Gov. Tim Pawlenty for failure to balance the state budget with just two days left to accomplish the task.

“The pattern in the last few years has been last-minute brinksmanship by the executive,” Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said about Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty Friday, a day with little evident progress on plugging a nearly $3 billion budget deficit.

Pogemiller said the deficit in the next two-year budget, which begins July 1, 2011, will be $5 billion to $8 billion because of Pawlenty’s lax fiscal supervision.

The senator’s words were his strongest against Pawlenty this year. They come as lawmakers and Pawlenty have just today and Sunday to balance the budget.

A key to accomplishing that task appeared to be in a bit of trouble. Democrats who control the House and Senate were debating among themselves Friday on a health and human services bill, even before they could get deep into talks with the governor’s staff.

“We are negotiating with the Senate,” Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said.

The health bill would cut some spending but increase it in other programs to help fund health care for the poor. The catch is where to find money to pay for the increased care, Huntley said.

Pawlenty rejects surcharges lawmakers wanted on some health-care providers and insurers, and the House and Senate struggled to work out a funding plan they could support.

Late Friday afternoon, Pawlenty’s spokesman said the governor felt the health care bill was “problematic because of the DFL’s insistence on surcharges.” He also noted that many Republicans are not happy with the state getting involved in a federal health care plan that Democrats say would bring the state federal money.

“Discussions with the executive branch are still happening,” Pogemiller said as the Senate adjourned for the day just before 6 p.m. “We are hoping to get there.”

Once the health bill is worked out, lawmakers face two other major tasks: finding a way to partially pay for $1.7 billion the state is borrowing from school districts and spelling out several hundred million dollars worth of spending cuts.

Scott Wente of the Woodbury Bulletin and Andrew Tellijohn of the State Capitol Bureau contributed to this story. Tellijohn and Davis report for Forum Communications Co.