A protracted fight over the election for governor could delay action to shrink the projected $6 billion state budget deficit -- or speed it up if the new majority party in the Legislature sees an advantage to doing so.

GOP leaders in the House and Senate said Wednesday that they haven't decided on a strategy for passing a budget of spending cuts if a new governor has not been seated at the beginning of the new year.

"I think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves," said Rep. Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, the House minority leader. He told reporters that lawmakers need to see economic forecasts this month and in February before deciding on a course of action. "Let's get an idea where we are then."

But the prospect of a long recount creates intriguing possibilities. If it continues past the scheduled Jan. 3 inauguration, Gov. Tim Pawlenty would continue as chief executive while the legislative session gets underway. Republican legislators could act quickly to send a budget-cutting bill to Pawlenty to sign rather than waiting for a likely veto should DFL gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton prevail in the recount.

"It might well be that Governor Pawlenty will sign the bill," said Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, this year's Senate minority leader who's hoping his caucus will make him next year's majority leader. Referring to possible GOP control of the House, Senate and governor's office, he said, "If we get a budget early on ... we've got a trifecta."

Senjem later said the idea hasn't been considered, adding, "I'm not suggesting we're going to do that." However, he said if the recount continued well into the 2011 session, "It's not inconceivable."

"We have to do this with some level of style and dignity and involvement with the minority party," he said of passing a budget. "But it's our turn to lead."

Rep. Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, the current House majority leader, warned GOP legislators Wednesday against "trying to do any shenanigans or funny business" before a recount is finished.

Contending that Dayton's margin of thousands of votes makes him the likely winner of a recount, Sertich said, "It would not be dignified to be using a governor who is past lame duck ... to pass legislation that might go directly against what the people voted for."

Dayton campaigned on raising taxes on wealthier Minnesotans as the primary way of reducing the deficit.

A prolonged recount also could affect Minnesota's eligibility for an early infusion of new federal Medicaid money to expand coverage for the poor.

The Minnesota governor has until Jan. 15 to accept the early expansion of Medicaid and receive $1.4 billion from the federal government. Pawlenty and GOP contender Tom Emmer have opposed it, saying it would cost the state $430 million in matching funds while not guaranteeing continued federal funding.

Dayton said Wednesday that accepting the money is one of the first things he'd do upon taking office.

"It's one of the reasons this matter needs to be resolved," he said of the election dispute.

The state's sale of bonds to borrow money for construction projects is another major financial decision that could be affected by the outcome of the governor's race. Last February the DFL-led Legislature passed a $1 billion bonding bill as a way to create jobs, but Pawlenty signed off on a much smaller measure. Emmer has proposed no specific bonding package and has been critical of the cost.

Zellers on Wednesday also questioned the debt burden as well as the effectiveness of bonding projects in creating jobs.

"That's a January conversation," he said of bonding projects. "If there truly is some need out there ... I'm sure we can pull them together."

GOP majorities in the House and Senate also could jump-start efforts to provide a ballot measure on a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage, which was blocked by the DFL when it controlled the Legislature. A governor can't veto or sign such a referendum question.

But Zellers downplayed such social legislation, saying it "is not going to do anything to bring jobs back."

"We're going to move as quickly as possible to reinvigorate our economy," he said

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210