ST. PAUL -- With legislative leaders promising marathon floor sessions today, at least two conference committees were scrambling to complete their work.
Panels dealing with statewide construction projects and funding for several agencies called it quits late Monday and were working out final details this morning.
An education committee pressed on well past midnight and finally reached an accord on spending for all levels of schooling at about 4 a.m. Other breakthroughs included a transportation package and a bill that includes income tax cuts, farm relief and a sales tax rebate of about $640 million.
Sen. Doug Johnson, DFL-Tower, co-chairman of the committee, said the tax bill wasn't fair to middle-income families. But he voted for it because it was part of a larger agreement to split ongoing money from the budget surplus three ways among the House, Senate and Gov. Jesse Ventura.
''I held my nose when I voted for this bill,'' he said.
Johnson had opposed the across-the-board income tax cuts that made it into the final report. The top and bottom brackets will be reduced by 0.15 percentage point and the middle bracket by 0.2 percentage point. He thought a personal exemption credit would have been more fair to lower-income Minnesotans.
The bill also eventually will include vehicle registration tab fee cuts of between $149 million and $174 million annually.
Nearly everyone in the state will receive a sales tax rebate again this year, but it will only be about half as big as the 1999 rebate. And a few extra groups will be added this year, including dependents and people on Social Security.
''I am very proud of what we have done,'' said the other co-chairman, Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka.
This year's negotiations were different because of an unusual three-way split of $525 million of surplus dollars. Each of the three sides essentially had free rein to spend $175 million.
Ventura is putting his share toward license tab fee cuts, with the biggest break going to owners of the most expensive cars. The House is cutting income taxes, and the Senate is investing in education, natural resources and human services.
That deal was based only on ongoing spending, but the distribution of one-time surplus money such as that for transportation, was being worked out separately.
The transportation conference committee passed a bill that puts nearly $600 million into road, bridge and transit projects while preserving Ventura's previously approved funding for a light-rail line.
''It's one of the best transportation bills we've had in two decades,'' said Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, a co-chair of the conference committee that passed the bill.
There were rumblings that the bill could be in danger because lawmakers didn't find room for a $25 million busway linking Minneapolis and St. Paul, which Ventura was seeking.
''The governor is going to have to recognize that he's not going to get everything he wants,'' said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.
The committee removed language in the bill that would have given local governments a chance to decide whether light-rail park-and-ride stations could be built in their communities. Metro lawmakers said the language could potentially halt an expansion of commuter lines.
A $187 million spending package for K-12 education passed a House-Senate conference committee early this morning. The bill includes $67 million in one-time spending and the rest in permanent funds.
The money would go to several projects, including special education, school improvements, vocational education, teacher training and high-speed Internet access. The committee also fixed a funding problem for charter schools that allows them to lease buildings.
''I think for the schools that are really doing a lot of budget cuts, things that are going to help them right away are the special education money that they're going to receive and the training and experience money (for teachers),'' Rep. Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington, told Minnesota Public Radio.
Several snags were holding up the bonding bill, but by late morning it looked likely to pass. The committee had come back with a proposal that included full funding for a new lab and office for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, another of Ventura's top priorities. The $58 million price tag was the biggest single item in the $400 million bonding proposal Ventura submitted before the session started.
An amendment was expected to pass that would let Ventura shift what was left from his $175 million after license tab cuts, about $25 million, into transit in the bonding bill, which House Republicans had opposed.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said the biggest thing that was left out was more than $11 million for public television for the conversion to a digital format.
The biggest chunk of the $450 million bonding bill would go to education. About $300 million would go to higher education, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system and other education. ''I think it's a very good bill,'' Berglin said.
Ventura kept a low profile before heading to Washington to prepare for a meeting with President Clinton today.
Some lawmakers questioned why Ventura would travel to Washington to discuss trade with China when the session has reached a critical point.
''He better stay here and trade with the Norwegians, Swedes, Democrats and Lutherans,'' Dean Johnson said. ''You better add Republicans, too.''
Ventura's spokesman, John Wodele, said just because the governor is out of the state doesn't mean he is detached. He can keep abreast of Capitol happenings via phone, Wodele said.
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