ST. PAUL -- Rank-and-file legislators grew restless Friday as their leaders decided to keep them in town over the Memorial Day weekend in case a session-ending deal fell into place.
As has been the case for days, the sticking points were budget bills for health and welfare programs, local government aid, transportation and a slate of construction projects paid for through borrowing.
Meanwhile, Congress threw another wrinkle at state leaders by passing a tax-cut and stimulus package that could bring Minnesota more than $350 million, split between Medicaid assistance and general grants.
While budget agreements eluded them, legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty found consensus on one point: None wanted to break for the weekend.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said preventing legislators from hitting the road will make them more hungry for a deal.
A break is "out of the question from my standpoint," he said. Without the holiday backstop "we'll blast right through June."
Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, said a few days away would provide a needed respite for weary legislators and sleep-deprived staff.
"For the families and for members and staff, we should work until midnight and take off," he said.
Gunther said he was anxious to get back to the two grocery stores his family operates and see some relatives from out of town.
Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, felt likewise, breaking into song: "Members, I wanna go home." He unsuccessfully tried to get the House to adjourn until Tuesday instead of 9 a.m. Saturday.
Said Rep. Len Biernat, DFL-Minneapolis: "We seem to be spinning our wheels and wasting a lot of time."
The Senate was to return to the Capitol at noon Saturday.
Four days into a special session, lawmakers are slowly clearing their docket. A nearly $12 billion education finance package was approved Thursday night, putting legislators at the halfway point toward completing a $28.3 billion budget for the next two years. They're trying to balance a $4.23 billion deficit without a state tax hike.
While their own problems were consuming them, some leaders kept an eye on the budget action in Washington. The federal money would go a long way toward breaking Minnesota's deadlock on a health and human services spending plan.
But Pawlenty is uncomfortable with tying the state's fortunes too closely to the federal assistance, due to come in over the next 18 months.
"We're willing to work with the federal money, but we have to put some conditions on that," he said. "You can't use this money, which is one-time money, to support permanent spending."
Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, said he doesn't understand the administration's reluctance.
"We see it as an opportunity and one specifically intended by the federal government," Hottinger said.
But Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy said changes made on the tax side could cost Minnesota as much as $120 million the over the next two years and more down the line. That's because Minnesota taxes are linked to federal taxable income, which would fall under the congressional plan.
On other issues, talks were ongoing.
The Senate was mulling a House offer on local government aid. That program's funding is sure to be cut, and lawmakers were trying to figure out which cities get how much money.
They were also discussing the size and scope of a road-building package. Pawlenty was annoyed that his proposal for $1.1 billion in transportation funding wasn't sailing through.
"We have stalled out," Pawlenty said. "We have run into congestion."
Senate Democrats have reservations about the idea of borrowing half of that, doubting the ability to pay off the bonds through cuts to the Department of Transportation's operating budget.
"What he basically said is it's our way or the highway, then he refuses to pay for the highway," said Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon.
In turn, they delivered a proposal Friday that would spend $220 million on transportation in 2004-05, about half funded through bonds and half through cash.
Leaders were also at odds over a separate plan to issue bonds for $150 million to $210 million in building projects around the state.
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