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Negotiations to continue through the weekend

ST. PAUL - Legislative negotiations on two levels were set to continue through the weekend after the Minnesota House passed its tax bill. It appeared top legislative leaders would miss a midnight deadline Friday to agree with GOP Gov. Tim Pawlent...

ST. PAUL - Legislative negotiations on two levels were set to continue through the weekend after the Minnesota House passed its tax bill.

It appeared top legislative leaders would miss a midnight deadline Friday to agree with GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty on spending limits for each area of the next two-year state budget. Top lawmakers said they will continue to work with Pawlenty's office to reach spending agreements.

Meanwhile, House-Senate conference committees planned to meet over the weekend to work toward their own compromises, but lawmakers said it could still take days, or longer, to complete the biggest budget bills. The Legislature must adjourn by May 21.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said Pawlenty may need a "bucket of red barn paint" to veto all of the unpalatable Democratic spending bills.

"If they want to bring veto pens to the table, we will bring an olive branch," responded House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm.

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Also on Friday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty sent letters to the budget conference committee chairmen urging support for his proposals and warning them not to include items he opposes.

Rally for E85

Minnesota needs to expand its use of ethanol fuel, a coalition of farm, health and trade groups heard Friday.

The Minnesota E85 Team rallied in the Capitol rotunda to push for more funding to expand the number of service station pumps dispensing fuel containing 85 percent ethanol - mostly made from corn - and 15 percent gasoline.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty told rally participants that auto manufacturers have said they don't produce more alternative-fuel vehicles because there is a lack of E85 pumps.

Minnesota has been a leader in renewable energy, said Pawlenty, who wants to boost the number of E85 pumps from 300 to 1,800 for $12 million.

"We need to raise the bar on ourself," he said.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said renewable energy is not a partisan issue. He predicted the DFL-led Legislature and Pawlenty will agree on a "nation-leading" E85 proposal this year.

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Smoke ban panel setThe Legislature's attention is on the next two-year state budget, but work continues on a statewide smoking ban.

The House approved its version of a smoking ban Thursday after the Senate passed a similar bill last month.

A 10-member conference committee could begin working out differences between the two versions within days, said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud.

The committee was named Friday. It includes DFL Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth and Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel.

Building bill delayLawmakers planning to send Gov. Tim Pawlenty a bill funding nearly $300 million in construction projects must wait at least a few more days.

A panel of senators and representatives agreed on a $299 million public works plan paid for with borrowed funds and cash, but there was a problem with language in the bill, said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.

The conference committee will fix the problem and both chambers could vote on the compromise bill as early as Monday, legislative leaders said.

Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald. State Capitol Bureau reporter Mike Longaecker contributed to this report.

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