For all the conflict and drama in the early part of this legislative session — the transportation bill and the veto override in the House, the Senate vote not to approve Carol Molnau as the transportation commish, the governor’s slash-and-burn line-item vetoes in the bonding bill — there are, apparently, still fireworks to come.
Last week, DFL and GOP leaders met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty for preliminary talks on how to address the state’s $935 million budget shortfall. Though all three sides agreed that the meeting was cordial and a good start to negotiations, it also became clear that all three sides had differing views on what was actually said at the meeting. But one thing is certain: The deficit and a major health-care reform bill are sure to dominate the rest of the session.
A few weeks ago, some lawmakers were talking about wrapping things up and going home early. Could that still happen?
“No,” David Senjem, the Senate minority leader, said Monday morning.
The way Senjem sees it, there’s going to be at least a week, if not two, of haggling over the budget shortfall. (He was awaiting the first proposal from the DFL leadership yesterday.) And then those talks will inevitably bleed over into the health care debate. The two are intertwined because the governor wants to tap some $250 million in surplus from something called the Health Care Access Fund, a notion DFL leaders claim is off the table.
Senjem not optimistic
Senjem, a Republican from Rochester, counts Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark and Sen. Richard Cohen, the Senate’s Finance Committee chair, as the major negotiators for the Democrats. For the GOP, Senjem says it’s largely himself and Rep. Marty Seifert, the minority leader in the House, along with Pawlenty. “The governor is the major gatekeeper on our side,” Senjem said.
Still, Senjem is not optimistic on either front. The budget “will end up stalled, and then there will be an issue about whether we raise taxes,” Senjem said, noting that his speculation was not necessarily more accurate than anyone else’s. “The governor will have to unallot” — Captiolspeak for the gubernatorial power to start cutting spending without legislative consent when the budget is out of whack.
As for health care, Senjem said that most DFL lawmakers don’t want to go home without saying to constituents that they’ve done something about it. Still, the sweeping reform that was passed in both chambers is unlikely to go through in full.
“They’re going to get a health care bill, even if it’s a bad one,” Senjem said. “They’ll take one or two portions of it and call it a day.”
Of course, Senjem wouldn’t be a politician if he didn’t sense some partisan politics, and offer some of his own. “They’re gonna walk away from the budget and leave it for the governor,” Senjem concluded about the Democrats, “then blame him for not being able to balance a budget.”