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Budget battle: DFLers lose, so now what?

Early Sunday afternoon, the DFLers came out of their caucus meeting at the state Capitol like a football team that had just been given a Rockne-like pep talk. There was fire in their eyes.

“Let’s go!” said Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, as they passed by his desk in the last row of the chamber.

They’d nod their heads at Hayden.

“Let’s get it done,” one of them said to Hayden.

“You’re going to hear DFLers sound like DFLers,” Hayden said to a reporter.  

As the DFLers moved into the House chamber, they heard the chants of about a 100 AFSCME workers who had given up a part of this beautiful spring day to fire up their team.

“Override! Override! Override!” the workers chanted.

Sometimes, for a change of pace, the workers sang the chant to guitar music.

“OvERride, ovERride, ovERide,” they sang.

The Republicans, who’d held a brief caucus themselves, sat sprawled in their chairs, sometimes joking among themselves about the chants. Clearly they were confident that they weren’t going to budge, but they couldn’t help but wonder what the DFLers had up their left sleeves.

After a long delay, brought about for no apparent reason, the DFL unveiled its strategy at around 4:30. They’d try to hit the Republicans right in the heart.

Before trying to override Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto of their $1 billion tax bill, the DFLers  would try to override his line-item veto of the $361 million elimination of the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program. As DFLers continually said over the next hours of debate, this is the program “for the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the sick.”  It’s been a program that has served Minnesota adults making less than $8,000.

Oh, they hit those Republicans with every DFL value they could.

Some DFLers were passionate.

Rep. Larry Hosch
Rep. Larry Hosch

“We’re one day, one accident, one medical condition from being in the same place they are,” said Rep. Larry Hosch of St. Joseph.

“We cannot balance the budget on the poorest of the poor,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul.

Some DFLers were pragmatic. They talked about how the $361 million whack — from the second year of the biennium budget — would causes thousands of workers at hospitals and medical facilities to lose their jobs.

Two views of Jesus
They cited Hubert Humphrey and Jesus Christ in speaking to the worthiness of GAMC.

Bringing up Jesus, by the way, led to an interesting — though somewhat unclear — counter attack from Rep. Michael Beard, R-Shakopee. Beard’s a businessman but has his degree from Bethany College of Missions and apparently has a largely different view of Jesus than the DFLers do.

Beard started off fine.

“Don’t turn this into a morality debate,” he said. “Don’t stand on the floor and use the scriptures to beat me around the head and shoulders.”

Then, he wandered off to the true meaning of Jesus and it got a little foggy. He talked of Jesus performing a few miracle cures, but then he talked of how Jesus wouldn’t have been in favor of higher taxes, either.

In fairness, there were a few DFLers who weren’t making much sense either.

The key player on the Republican side of the aisle was Rod Hamilton, a pork producer from Mountain Lake. He fired off a few lines about how welfare people drive nicer cars than most of the rest of us do.

Rep. Rod Hamilton
Rep. Rod Hamilton

But his big attack lines centered around DFL priorities. He claimed that it was the DFLers who had messed up priorities, saying they spent too much of the session passing bills covering “earth worms, hockey arenas, bike trails, the Indigenous Earthkeepers bill and dog parks. It’s all about priorities.” He went on and on about how DFLers had wasted time.

It was pointed out that no dog park legislation ever reached the floor of the House and Rep. Karen Clark tearfully pointed out that the Indigenous Earthkeepers bill that Republicans were delighting in ridiculing was about giving a small amount of money to a program for Indian kids, who have abysmal graduation rates and frightening suicide rates.

No matter. This became a continued theme of the Republians throughout the debate. The DFLers had wasted the whole session on Indigenous Earthkeepers and dog parks instead of dealing with serious issues like balancing the budget and medical programs for the poorest of the poor.

(An aside: The House should consider using the National Basketball Association’s 24-second clock during debates. A speaker would get 24 seconds, a buzzer would sound and the next speaker would then get 24 seconds. As it is, once they have a microphone in their hands, most of the legislators seem unwilling to give it up, even when they’ve got nothing new to saw or even when nobody’s listening.)

Passionate debate
Anyhow, it was a passionate debate and the DFLers thought they had a shot at winning.

They were wrong.

In the end, they didn’t sway a single Republican vote.  All 87 DFLers supported overriding Pawlenty’s veto of GAMC, all 37 Republicans supported their governor, meaning the DFL was three votes shy of override.

The air went out of the DFL.  If they couldn’t get three Republicans to side with them in supporting the poorest of the poor, they knew they had no chance of overriding the governor’s veto of the omnibus tax bill that would have created $1 billion in new taxes as part of the fix of a $4.6 billion dollar budget gap.

Oh, DFLers  acted as if they still had a chance to convince three Republicans to support an override.  They talked about how they — the DFLers — had been the responsible party in trying to fix the budget by using a combination of cuts and tax increases to create balance.

The Republicans responded by saying the DFLers had been irresponsibly wasting time for the first four months of the session. 

And even though everyone knew what the outcome would be, the two sides traded barbs for a couple of more hours before the BIG vote on the BIG bill, the tax bill, was held.

In the end, the DFLers couldn’t even hold their own team together. Two DFLers, Gene Pelowski of Winona and Jeanne Poppe of Austin, joined the Republicans in voting against the override. 

Where does that leave things entering the final day of session?

For the moment, it leaves the DFL predicting imminent job losses in health-related professions and in many public sectors as well. DFLers were predicting that by mid-week, two major hospitals, Regions in St. Paul and Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, will be announcing major job cuts. They predicted a total of 16,000 jobs will be lost because of the GAMC. (In all, the GMAC veto will cut 30,000 from the medical support system.)  

Republicans aren’t buying.

For one thing, they’re saying that the Legislature can fix the GAMC program next session, since Pawlenty’s cuts come out of the second year of the budget. For another, they’re saying DFLers still can work with the governor on a series of compromises that might soften some of the cuts he’s threatening.

Rep. Marty Seifert
Rep. Marty Seifert

“He’s the adult in the room,” minority leader Marty Seifert said of the governor. “He’ll hold out his arms to the prodigal son [presumably the DFLers] and embrace you in a spirit of compromise.”

(Another aside: How about in addition to the 24-second clock, how about a rule prohibiting all religious analogies in House debates?)

The so-called compromises the DFL still could reach with the governor would be to agree to more than $1 billion in accounting shifts, which would help decrease the depth of the cuts.

As the House’s long debates ended Sunday night, the weary DFLers seemed to be of two minds on how to deal with the last hours of this session. They could still try to find some solace in those small compromises.

Pawlenty’s budget
But the angry view is to let Pawlenty go it alone. Let the governor carry out his threats to balance the budget exclusively with cuts made through his use of vetoes and, after the start of the new fiscal year, unallotments. Let him own the budget he demanded. If hospitals really do close, if thousands do lose their jobs because of cuts to Local Government Aid and Health and Human Services cuts and cuts in education, if local property taxes skyrocket because of state cuts, let Pawlenty alone pay the political consequences.

House majority leader Tony Sertich of Chisolm seemed to be signaling that the DFL might just forego any more negotiating with Pawlenty.

In making one last DFL spiel to urge Republicans to join with DFLers in overriding Pawlenty’s veto of the tax bill, Sertich put it this way:

Rep. Tony Sertich
Rep. Tony Sertich

“You have two options. You have the option the Legislature put together [$1 billion in tax revenues] and then we’ll take up the shift with the governor and it’s done. The budget is balanced and we’re out of here. If you vote no [against override], you basically have certified unallotment.”

Sertich said if there was not an override the legacy of this legislative session would be: “We cut those Minnesotans who make less than $8,000 a year and we protected those Minnesota who make a million a year.”

DFLers think Minnesota is with them.

Maybe. In most polls, Minnesotans seemed supportive of some tax increases, especially if it was somebody else getting taxed.

But Pawlenty is not alone. He has his 37 supporters in the House and he’s getting positive reviews from some conservatives nationally.

For example, on the website of Americans for Tax Reform, there was a “news” article under this headline: “Gov. Tim Pawlenty: Hero of the Taxpayer.”

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform.  Norquist, you’ll recall, is the man who championed the “no new taxes” pledge Pawlenty signed six years ago.

Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/18/2009 - 09:31 am.

    For my “religious” Republican friends (Rep. Beard), from Luke 6:20-36

    20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said, “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.”
    21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
    22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.
    23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
    26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
    27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
    28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
    29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
    30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.
    31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
    33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
    34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
    35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.
    36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

    (Emphasis mine)

    What part of this don’t you get?

    History has shown, over and over again, that great nations prosper, not by protecting the rich, but by caring for the poor. Great nations collapse from within as the inevitable result of neglecting the poor and protecting the rich.

    It may not match your psychological dysfunctions, but it IS the endlessly-repeated lesson of history.

    Meanwhile Governor Pawlenty is throwing the poorest of Minnesota’s citizens over the side, as if they were just so much unnecessary ballast, in order to try to win the competition to take over as captain of the Titanic (leadership or at least a high ranking position of the national Republican party).

  2. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/18/2009 - 09:33 am.

    Victory! Why does everyone hate a winner?

  3. Submitted by Wilford Wicklund on 05/18/2009 - 10:29 am.

    Conspicuously absent from this piece is the DFLers refusal to consider any gaming options to raise revenue. I expect that’s because DFLers get so much campaign money from the Indian casinos.

  4. Submitted by Lora Jones on 05/18/2009 - 10:34 am.

    I, also, feel that the DFL should let T-Paw go it alone. The republican party will never recover. The only “good” news in all of this, however, is that his actions have made it pretty obvious Pawlenty won’t be running in 2010. Haven’t seen a Repug yet clean up his own mess.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 11:06 am.

    Greg, do you presume that Luke was chronicling a pep talk Christ gave to a group of tax collectors? With all due respect, I think you might spend some quality time reflecting on to whom He was speaking, and what His message really says.

    Our Governor is wisely acknowledging that the trajectory of double digit increases in the cost and size of government is, and always was untenable.

    As we, the working people of Minnesota accept the reality of the new landscape government manipulation of the mortgage business has wrought, Governor Pawlenty realizes that insatiable government growth must be brought to heel; kicking and screaming if necessary.

    When I contemplate the painful consequences of President Obama’s mind boggling, $1.8 Trillion dollar deficit, and realize that he and the Democrat majority plan to dig us even deeper, I realize it is a pity that we do not have Tim Pawlenty’s calm, deliberative leadership in Washington.

    But the nation’s loss is our gain; we are very lucky to have him providing leadership in the face of the rudderless pirate ship the Minnesota legislature has become.

  6. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/18/2009 - 11:38 am.

    “Our Governor is wisely acknowledging that the trajectory of double digit increases in the cost and size of government is, and always was untenable.”

    You’d think that after three prior budget cycles, Gov Pawlenty would have figured out how to address the systemic problems that leave the MN state underfunded. He’s been cutting programs for six years, filling the gaps in each budget with accounting gimmicks and one-time funding – yet here we are, again, where revenue doesn’t match spending. That’s hardly a record that I’d hold out as being evidence of ‘wisdom’. Perhaps next time we’ll get a Governor who’s willing to start over and build a sane budget that better balances revenue and spending.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 12:05 pm.

    Although during Pawlenty’s tenure the overwhelming majority of deficit spending has come at the hands of the Democrat caucus (Q.E.D.), there is some value in what you say, Brian.

    Had the Governor been more aggressive in right-sizing Minnesota’s bloated government over the past several years, we would undoubtedly be in a much better position today.

    That being said, and acknowledged; this is certainly a case of better late than never.

  8. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/18/2009 - 12:18 pm.

    Democrats don’t have enough votes to override a veto, but they do have enough to impeach Pawlenty and remove him from office for nonfeasance. Just need a majority in the house and two-thirds in the Senate.

  9. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 05/18/2009 - 12:34 pm.

    Yes, lets impeach him. Then give everyone presidential scholarships.

  10. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/18/2009 - 12:46 pm.

    swift says we should ponder what Jesus’ message really says. What don’t you understand? It’s been clear to most Christians for a couple thousand years. You know the old saw, Christianity is a wonderful religion; too bad it’s never been tried.
    I think impeachment for nonfeasance is a good idea. Some of us have had enough of NO and would like to hear something besides CUT TAXES (for the rich) and come up with a sensible, systematic budgetplan that can be followed for years.
    And with t-paw’s veto, just watch all your other taxes go up, and experience long lines when you try to renew your drivers’ license or get mediation or some other state service.

  11. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 12:50 pm.

    Joe, I don’t think Jeremy is aware of his compromised credibility.

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/18/2009 - 01:46 pm.

    It would be fair to say that the budget problems will live to see another day.

    Clearly the problems have been kicked down the road, papered over (insert your own cliche here) until the next budget biennium. When the holes will be bigger and the deficits larger.

    The only real question is whether or not Governor Pawlenty will be here to deal with the same situation all over again in the next biennium. The only real difference next time will be the lack of federal stimulus dollars. This is will be when the truly hard choices will have to be made.

    I suspect the governor will be taking advantage of his political victory with this budget and using it in a national forum. While the next team here at home will hopefully be doing the really hard work here in Minnesota.

    Both sides of the aisle have nothing to be proud of with this budget.

  13. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/18/2009 - 02:20 pm.

    The poor will not be denied medical coverage. They will still walk into Hennepin County Medical Center without any ID or proof of residency or money and they will be treated. The hospital will just be paid less for it by the state taxpayers. This effectively cuts medical costs. If government keeps footing the bill for everything, the hospitals will just keep billing them and medical costs will continue to skyrocket.

  14. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 05/18/2009 - 02:55 pm.

    So in other words, according to Dean Spaulding what we need is to force a publicly run hospital that relies on local tax money to accept the poor for free because we, the rich, white, God-fearing conservatives don’t want to pay for it and that will someone how help reduce the cost of health care? Unbelievable that people think this kind of nonsense.

  15. Submitted by Dick Novack on 05/18/2009 - 03:45 pm.

    What a silly statement Dean: “The poor will not be denied medical coverage. They will still walk into Hennepin County Medical Center without any ID or proof of residency or money and they will be treated. The hospital will just be paid less for it by the state taxpayers. THIS EFFECTIVELY CUTS MEDICAL COSTS.” [emphasis mine].

    “GOVERNMENT” will still be paying what it must, except it will be the property taxpayers of only Hennepin County, not the whole state taxpayers. Medical staff will not work for free. Many of the “staff” in hospitals work for “for-profit” privately owned small-business providers under contract in medical facilities. That is why you (or your insurance co) get separate bills from the x-ray, respiratory, laboratory, specialists, and ER docs – besides the hospital facility. Likewise I can’t see privately owned for-profit-business medical supply companies or food service companies deciding to donate their materials to any medical facilities such as Hennepin County. That cost will not go down either.

    So medical costs in an unchanged medical system will continue. What will “give” is service or who is served, or if their are long lines how long it takes effectively killin a few here and there. Under this scenario “cost” will not give. Perhaps the richest county, Hennepin, with the state’s top hospital for serious cases will be able to cover the costs in property tax increases. But let’s also look at perhaps 60 counties that could be bankrupted trying to furnish the same for their citizens – even if they have to transport them to Hennepin or Regions and get billed from them. Simply said services will be cut and deaths will occur.

    The solution is a reform of the medical system. That reform is too buried in ideologies of left and right to possibly be negotiated at this time.

  16. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/18/2009 - 04:04 pm.

    Grover Norquist, Pawlenty’s Model of Good Government: “My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that guy doesn’t need the goddamned government for anything.”

    In Grover’s view, and apparently Pawlenty’s, it would be dishonorable to tax the wealthy at rates at least as high as those the middle class pays. I guess that means it would be honorable to let homeless, mentally ill people die on the street rather than raise the revenue needed to care for them with GMA funds.

    I used to think it would be impossible to get 25% of voters from the last election to sign petitions in favor of a recall. Now I’m beginning to think it could happen. Is there a state-wide organization out there that would take on this task for the sake of our state, our cities and counties, our elderly, ill, and poor, our public school and college students?

  17. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/18/2009 - 04:49 pm.

    Well, let’s see.

    It looks like Jeremy has dibs on the impeachment deal, but I think the recall campaign is still up for grabs, Bernice.

    Better act quickly though, or you’ll soon be stuck with the the “Chair” is too good for Pawlenty crowd…(and I hear they’re kind of kooky.) :^)

  18. Submitted by Bobby Patrick on 05/18/2009 - 05:21 pm.

    The number of Republicans is actually 47, not 37.

  19. Submitted by david granneman on 05/18/2009 - 08:12 pm.

    the democrates claim to be the party of the poor and needy. yet when asked to cut government spending they seem to start with vital services used by the poor. they usually start with police, then fireman, then teachers. then they look to cut medical care for the poor and then nursing home care for elderly. it seems the most vital services are the first to be considered.
    i wonder why they seem to never cut 100 AFSCME WORKERS WHO HAVE NOTHING BETTER TO DO THEN CHANT AT THE STATE CAPITAL. they never consider laying off these overpaided,non-esential, paper pushing burocrates. i suspect many of the posters on this forum are overpaid, non-esential, paper pushing burocrates that should be doing their jobs.

  20. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 05/18/2009 - 08:15 pm.

    The United States currently pays more than double the costs for medical care than most other developed countries, and the resulting care and lifestyle and life expectancy is not any better. Our medical industry is very profitable and they are financially raping us, and making billions of dollars in the process. They are in it for the money, and the are making lots of money. As long as government keeps throwing it at them, they will find a way to take it. Hennepin County Hospital loves a patient that walks in with an ear infection that they can bill the government $500 for. Someone has to say “NO.” Treat the ear infection for $100, not $500.

  21. Submitted by Joe Musich on 05/18/2009 - 10:05 pm.

    Are these decisions seriously about good government ? Welcome to compassion free I got my own and the hell with the others Minnesota ! Oh here are some Greatful Dead lyrics thta bout sum it all up :

    That’s It For The Other One

    The other day they waited, the sky was dark and faded,
    Solemnly they stated, “He has to die, you know he has to die.”
    All the children learnin’, from books that they were burnin’,
    Every leaf was turnin’ ; to watch him die, you know he had to die.

    The summer sun looked down on him, his mother could but frown on him,
    And all the others sound on him, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

    And when the day had ended, with rainbow colors blended,
    His mind remained unbended, he had to die, you know he had to die.

    Spanish lady comes to me, she lays on me this roes.
    It rainbow spirals round and round it trembles and explodes.
    It left a smoking crater of my mind I like to blow away.
    But the heat came ’round and busted me for smiling on a cloudy day.

    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’, around,
    comin’, around, in a circle
    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’ around, in a circle,
    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’ in a circle.

    Skippin’ through the lily fields I came across an empty space,
    It trembled and exploded, left a bus stop in it’s place.
    The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began,
    There was cowboy Neal at the wheel of the bus to never ever land.

    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’, around,
    comin’, around, in a circle
    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’ around, in a circle,
    Comin’, comin’, comin’ around, comin’ in a circle.

    And when the day had ended, with rainbow colors blended,
    Their minds remained unbended,
    He had to die, Oh, you know he had to die.

  22. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 05/18/2009 - 10:09 pm.

    Dean Says:”Our medical industry is very profitable and they are financially raping us, and making billions of dollars in the process.”

    And I agree. So what do we do? Who can stop them? You? Me? I don’t think that we can do it alone. We’d need some help, a large organization. Who could be powerful enough? We could get private industry, after all they are being raped as well, but a lot of them are in on it too, or they have pals who are in on it. So who could help us? Maybe a large organization of private citizens? But how would they be organized, chosen? Well maybe we could all get together and decide who has the skills we’d need to organize and fight the big insurance companies. Maybe we could vote on who we wanted to work for us, the average citizen. I think that might work. What would we call that? Maybe there is some old greek term or something?

    What do you think Dean, you seem like a smart guy, what would you call a group of citizens elected by their peers to decide who things should work?

  23. Submitted by Bill Haverberg on 05/19/2009 - 07:59 am.

    For years the Governor has treated politicians who didn’t agree with him on taxes – whether in the legislature or in cities dependent on revenue sharing – like little children. So in a pique of long simmering annoyance they decided to behave that way. This is his comeuppance.

    After $2 Billion of unallotment driving tuition costs into the double-digit territory and causing other high-profile pain he will lose the independents and moderates who voted for him.

    Look for him instead in the hordes of punditry on national TV, on an abortive presidential run, and lucrative stints at the Hoover Institute or the American Enterprise Institute, massaging policy. His state career is over.

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