July 2, 2005

Minnesota leaders meet to resolve budget shutdown

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Leaders of the Minnesota House andSenate met on Saturday in an effort to resolve a budget impassethat has shut down a portion of the state government, alegislative official said.

"They are in meetings all day with the Senate leadership,"said an aide to House Speaker Steve Sviggum, who asked not tobe identified. "I am not sure if the governor's staff isinvolved."

With education and health services among the disputedbudget issues, the sessions were to continue Sunday but even ifan agreement is reached during weekend, it may be Tuesdaybefore any action can be taken, the aide said. State officeswill be closed on Monday for the U.S. Independence Day holiday.

The partial shutdown began after Republican Gov. TimPawlenty, the Republican-controlled House and theDemocrat-Farm-Labor Party-run Senate failed to agree on afiscal 2006-2007 spending plan by midnight on Thursday.

The impasse closed down a portion of Minnesota's stategovernment on Friday, idling an estimated 9,000 of its 48,000workers.

Court actions and last-minute agreements kept key servicessuch as state police and health care services in operation. Thestate's agriculture, environment and economic developmentdepartments also will be open, along with state parks.

However, travelers to the parks this busy holiday weekendwill find rest areas shuttered. Also closed are driver'slicense facilities and the state's transportation and educationdepartments.

Senate leader Dean Johnson had said he presented a newbudget deal to the governor on Friday that set funding targetsfor education and health services.

Johnson said his chamber was prepared to pass, probably onSaturday, a resolution for continuing appropriations that wouldkeep the government running for 10 days. That would givelawmakers time to "cool down" and pass a final budget, he said.

Brian McClung, Pawlenty's spokesman, had said the governorwanted a budget deal before agreeing to a temporary spendingplan.