Republicans shared the outlines of what their "live-within- our-means" budget could mean for Minnesotans on Thursday: deep cuts in social services, public colleges, economic development and aid to cities.
"The gun has just gone off, and now the budget is 24-7 up here at the state Capitol," said Senate Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina.
Etched in billions, the dramatic battle pits DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's fight to raise taxes against Republicans, who insist that spending must come down.
Dayton quickly rejected the Republican plan.
"Earlier today the governor reiterated his belief that budgets are a reflection of values and priorities ... Based on the spreadsheets the GOP put out today, it appears those values and priorities are cutting education, cutting health care, cutting jobs, cutting veterans and raising property taxes," Dayton spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci said.
With little middle ground apparent, Capitol veterans say the fight already has the markings of an extended session that could drip from a timely May adjournment into the summer.
The state would need $39 billion to continue services at the current level. Republicans say they are willing to spend $34 billion. Dayton's budget would reduce spending by $2 billion and raise taxes $3 billion to close the gap.
The House and Senate, which released slightly different budget blueprints Thursday, would spend almost $1.3 billion less than Dayton proposed on health and welfare programs.
Those outlines give the programs -- which eat up a third of the state spending -- a bit more money than they are now getting but not enough to keep up with projected health care costs. Despite repeated questions, Senate leaders made no promises that their plan would spare nursing home spending.
The lawmakers added some sugar to their budget medicine. The Senate plans to build in tax cuts for businesses, while the House wants an income tax cut for middle-income Minnesotans.
"We owe it to the working people," said Rep. Kirk Stensrud, R-Eden Prairie. His bill would cut the income tax rate on couples earning up to $100,000 and singles earning up to $57,000. That rate would drop to 6.95 percent from 7.05 percent, a move that would reduce state income tax revenues by $100 million over two years.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called the House move misleading.
"They're putting money into the pockets of middle-class Minnesotans with one hand while they're reaching into the other pocket of middle-class Minnesota families with the other hand," he said.
But House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said Republicans will "fundamentally change the way government delivers services to the taxpayers of this state." Dayton's plan for higher taxes for the wealthy simply "doesn't work," he said.
Like Dayton, the Republicans want to continue a $1.3 billion school accounting shift that allows the state to spend money on schools this year and pay it back in later years. The state adopted that gimmick last year, during its last fiscal crunch.
The Republican plan would spend slightly more on K-12 schools than what they get now but less than what they're projected to need.
During the next two weeks, lawmakers will rush to flesh out their plans to meet a deadline of March 25 for fiscal proposals.
It is an aggressive schedule, said House Health and Human Services Finance Chairman Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, but achievable.
Tougher will be figuring the end game at the Capitol.
"We have very diverse beliefs about what is best for the state," said House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg said of the Republicans and the governor.
The Lakeville Republican said: "I'm not sure how we are going to resolve it."