Negotiators approve targets for some budget areas

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and top legislative leaders are still trying to reach an overall budget agreement, but House and Senate negotiators have at least two spending targets to work with.

They've agreed to overall spending levels for judiciary-public safety and higher education.

Senate Judiciary Chair Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, announced Thursday on the Senate floor that his conference committee received a target of $2.1 billion, an increase of $111 million over current spending.

“As soon as we can get done here on the floor, I can go prepare an offer to send over to my conferees in the House,” Latz said. “We’ve got our target, and we’re ready to go.”

There are still big policy differences between the House and Senate judiciary-public safety bills. Latz said he doesn’t plan to discuss those issues until all the budget issues are resolved. He also said he won’t consider any House policy provision unless the House agrees to accept the Senate’s language to restore felon voting rights.

The House public safety chair wouldn’t confirm the specific budget target.

Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, would only say it falls between the House and Senate bills.

Cornish also said he’s not planning to set aside policy provisions.

“Our strategy is going to continue to offer and counter offer with policy, and I guess his is that only budget issues will be discussed," Cornish said. "It’s going to be an interesting showdown.”

On higher education, negotiators agreed to spending $166 million more than in the current biennium, with $30 million of that going to the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Officials at the University and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system had requested a total increase of $207 million, not including the medical school money, to freeze tuition for the next two years.

A conference committee will have to work out details for the how the available money will be spent.

Other budget targets are getting close, according to key senators.

Senate Republicans pressed DFL leaders repeatedly for additional details about the ongoing budget negotiations.

Assistant Majority Leader Katie Sieben, DFL-Newport, said the situation is fluid. She also suggested a way for Republicans to stay updated.

“I’m watching Twitter to see what other developments are occurring and I would encourage you to do the same,” Sieben said

Catharine Richert contributed to this report. 

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