In a rare show of bipartisanship, Republican and DFL leaders appeared at a news conference with Republican Gov.Pawlenty. Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said they've agreed to split in half a $405 million pot - money from the state's budget surplus and a tax relief account.
"For every dollar of spending in the budget, there will be one dollar of relief for the taxpayers of Minnesota," Johnson explained.
It's a balanced product and it puts us in position now to finish up the session in a timely and productive fashion.Gov. Tim Pawlenty
The agreement means about 200 million dollars will go to spending programs. The group suggested some of the money will be directed to housing sex offenders, cleaning up Minnesota's lakes and streams and preparing for a bird flu pandemic. The other $200 million will be directed to unspecified tax relief.
Gov. Pawlenty says the deal puts the wheels in motion for an orderly end to the legislative session. "It's a very good product for the people of Minnesota," he said. "It's a balanced product and it puts us in position now to finish up the session in a timely and productive fashion."
The agreement is over a relatively small portion of the state's two-year budget - less than 1 percent. But it represents a dramatic departure from the end of last year's session, when most of the budget was set. Then, line-in-the-sand negotiating tactics led to a special session and a partial government shut down.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said negotiations were noticeably different this year: "Nobody gets everything they want but that's the way it is in life. You give and take and you cooperate together."
While the agreement is a major step in the legislative process, it doesn't guarantee a harmonious ending to this year's session. Pawlenty and legislative leaders haven't ironed out the details of how to spend the money or the focus of the tax cuts.
Tax and Budget Conference committees will negotiate the specifics Friday. The tax cut options include one-time property tax rebate checks, increased funding for cities and counties to offset future property tax hikes and fixing certain income tax glitches like the marriage penalty.
While Pawlenty and legislative leaders spent most of the night negotiating behind closed doors, other conference committees were busy haggling out in the open.
One of the most watched Capitol events is the stadium conference committee where House and Senate conferees have spent some long nights on the issue of a new ballpark for the Twins, a new stadium for the Vikings and funding for transportation projects.
Over the past week, the committee agreed to set aside a financing plan for the Vikings and focus on a financing plan for a downtown Minneapolis ballpark for the Twins. Three quarters of the $522 million stadium relies on a .15 percent Hennepin County sales tax. Twins owner Carl Pohlad would contribute $130 million.
One of the major sticking points remaining in the stadium committee is the Senate's desire to attach a metro-wide sales tax for transportation projects onto the final bill. Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins, says the proposal would receive strong Senate support if the sales tax for transportation was included.
"I think getting something done on transit would help a lot in terms of ensuring those votes on the Senate floor anyway," Kelley said.
House Republicans argue that the transportation discussion should occur between transportation experts. Kelley said he would be willing to remove the sales tax from the Twins proposal when he was assured the transportation conference committee would begin discussing it Friday morning. Once that's done, the stadium committee will only have minor details to work out.
Lawmakers negotiating their differences on a football stadium for the University of Minnesota also are optimistic that they'll reach a deal soon. Senate leaders say they don't like the stadium naming rights deal with TCF Bank. They also oppose any student fees being used to pay for the $248 million stadium.
Rep. Ron Abrams, R-Minnetonka, says House members believe the $35 million deal with TCF bank lowers the state's payment to the stadium. He also says not including the student fees could set a bad precedent "because the university has a number of facilities that students do not necessarily benefit from but their tuition and fees go towards."
Both stadium conference committees are scheduled to meet again Friday morning.