Legislators sent Gov. Tim Pawlenty fresh veto-bait just before midnight on Thursday, passing a two-stage increase in the minimum wage.

The vote was 89-45 in the House and 40-18 in the Senate for a bill that would raise the minimum hourly rate to $6.75 by mid-July and to $7.75 by next year. Smaller employers would have to pay $5.75 an hour by July and $6.75 by July 2009. The current minimum wage is $6.15 for large employers and $5.25 for small businesses.

Pawlenty has said the wage increase goes too far, and he is insisting on a tip credit that would allow a lower wage to be paid to employees who get tips.

Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, have said they would risk a veto rather than accede to a subminimum wage in Minnesota.

Pawlenty left the Capitol on Thursday evening for Breezy Point, for the state fishing opener, and isn't scheduled to return until Sunday, when he will speak at the Minnesota Statehood Day ceremony, marking the state's sesquicentennial.

Pawlenty and legislative leaders have yet to reach agreement on elements critical to closing the session, including how to bridge a projected $936 million budget gap and whether to include $70 million in bonding for the Central Corridor light-rail project between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

In a briefing for reporters on Friday, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said agreement between DFL leaders and the Republican governor "would be the best present Minnesota could have on its birthday."

In other legislative action late Thursday, the House passed an education policy bill that includes provisions requiring students to stay in school until age 18, up from the current 16, and to have at least a half-credit of physical education for graduation. The bill was sent to Pawlenty.

Also late Thursday, the House sent a transportation policy bill back to a conference committee. Among other things, the bill would have made the failure to wear seat belts a primary offense in Minnesota and restrict teenagers' ability to drive at night and to carry multiple passengers. The House recommended that the seat-belt provision be removed to improve the bill's chances for passage.

Patricia Lopez • 651-222-1288