After two all-nighters, legislators wrap up brief special session, approving compromise budget action

As the sun was rising, legislators stumbled stiffly into the legislative chambers for what, finally, is last call in St. Paul.

Officially, after consecutive weekend all-nighters, today marks the wrap-up: a special session called to sign off on a budget-balancing deal that had finally come together between DFL legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty near midnight Sunday. 

But unofficially this was the end of an era. Barring another special session down the line, DFLers no longer will have to try to deal with Pawlenty.

The birds were singing. The Twins had finally defeated the Yankees. It was time to go home. Who could ask for anything more?

Moments ago, the House voted 97-32 to approve the compromise, with the major parties’ endorsed candidates on opposite sides. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Keilliher, the DFL-endorsed candidate, voted yes, and Rep. Tom Emmer, the GOP’s endorsed candidate, voted no.

The Senate quickly followed, approving the measure 52-14.

“Considering the circumstances,” said Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-
Minneapolis, “this is the best we could do.”

Her sentiments were echoed, among DFLers, around the Capitol this morning.

The key phrase: “Under the circumstances …”

DFL leaders were trying to convince their House and Senate caucuses that this was better than an “under-the-circumstances” deal.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher make their case on the budget.
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher make their case on the budget.

According to members of the DFL House caucus, House Speaker Kelliher was quite animated in firing up DFL legislators over the deal at a 1 a.m. caucus meeting.

Many in the caucus had entered the meeting feeling beaten — again — by Pawlenty.

The budget-balancing deal
In balancing the budget, the DFL agreed to a deal that includes:

• No new tax revenues.

• Approval of most of Pawlenty’s unallotments last year (remember, those unallotment actions had been declared illegal by the state’s Supreme Court).

• No immediate action switching Minnesota’s poor from state medical program to a federal program that would have brought substantial funds to the state.

Where did the Republicans compromise?

At a midnight news conference, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers and Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem were pressed on that point.

What did Republicans give up?

There was a moment of silence. There were some “ummms.” Finally, Zellers took a crack at the question.

“Who wins, who loses, that doesn’t matter,” Zellers said. “It’s what’s best for the state that matters.”

What did Republicans give up in reaching this so-called compromise?

Senjem, a basically pleasant man who tends to like most of the DFLers he disagrees with, took a shot at the question.

“They [the DFLers] could have pushed harder,” he said. “But they didn’t do that.”

Did DFL get enough in ‘compromise’?
But the question that almost certainly will hang over Kelliher, as she now becomes a full-time candidate for governor, is: Why didn’t the DFL push for more?

Kelliher, with that little smile of hers, tried to convince reporters and members of her own caucus that this settlement was “a good result” for DFLers.

 K-12 education funding wasn’t cut. (But Pawlenty had never said he intended to cut K-12 funding.) The DFLers put on paper that the payback of the K-12 “shift” of $1.9 billion must begin next biennium. (Under Pawlenty’s unilateral shift, there was no payback promise.)

Though the DFL didn’t get to shift health care for the poor to the feds, it did get an additional $10 million into the GAMC program that will help rural hospitals and other money to prop up the program.

Regarding health care, the DFL also “won” a rather strange agreement. Pawlenty is required to seriously consider making the shift from state-funded health care to the federal program, which  DFLers say would not only insure more Minnesotans but also bring additional revenue to the state.

With a twinkle in his eye, Pawlenty said last night that he would consider making the shift because under the agreement he’s required to.

“But I think you know how I feel about it,” said Pawlenty.

 That means there will be no shift under Pawlenty.

The next governor can sign, by executive order, a document that would result in the health care shift.

There is a lot of confusion about this little element.

But Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, loves it. That means Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, should be fearful.

Nobody understands complex health care issues like Berglin. Nobody understands the nuances of legislative language like Berglin.

Under the terms of this agreement on who funds health care, she believes that even if the Republicans’ endorsed candidate, Tom Emmer, becomes governor, he’ll have a hard time keeping Minnesota from moving to the federal program.

“I’m happy,” Berglin insisted early this morning, as she wandered the halls of the Capitol.  “I’m very happy.”

Health care issue lingers
DFLers do have a big concern about the way this federal-state health care language is crafted.

Republicans have taken to calling any federal money for health care “Obamacare.”

Prior to the early-morning caucus meeting with Kelliher, Rep. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said the “danger” of not making the switch to the federal health care program now is that Republicans will use health care as an election issue in every House and Senate district in the state in November.

“A national issue is going to become a local issue,” Hayden said. “This will fire up the right-wing base.”

But after the meeting, after hearing Kelliher, Hayden wasn’t quite so concerned.

“Look,” he said, “we got everything we believe in most. We got more money for the poor [in health care], we protected K-12.”

He still believes that Republicans will try to use the health care switchover as a campaign issue, but he believes the DFL will be able to counter the attempt. In fact, he believes that Republicans will end up looking foolish rejecting federal money.

There’s another sign that the DFL did better than it may appear on the surface.  Hard-core conservatives hate the bill.

Phil Krinkie, head of the Taxpayers League, sat outside the House chamber early this morning, bemoaning the bill.

“The state is bankrupt,” he said. “It does nothing to change that.”

Krinkie was blaming the DFL-controlled Legislature. But, he was asked whether the governor also has a role in this long-term debt?  After all, even the most stringent Pawlenty budget did nothing to take on the state’s long-term debt, which will be huge when legislators reconvene next year.

Krinkie shook his head in disgust when Pawlenty’s name was brought up.

“He checked outta here two years ago,” Krinkie said. “He doesn’t care. It’s not his problem.”

Other Republicans also were ripping their governor.

“He’s got our back all right,” said one representative. “He’s got a knife in our back.”

Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, Gov. Tim Pawlenty, House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers
MinnPost photo by Terry Gydesen
Flanked by Senate Minority Leader David Senjem and House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, Gov. Tim Pawlenty addresses the media early today.

In fact, few of any Republicans, beyond Zellers and Senjem, were expected to support the bill.

The clock kept ticking as legislators yawned and waited for the little special session to end.

“This pig won’t die,” said Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, as he looked at his watch and yawned.

The settlement was supposed to have been voted on, signed sealed and delivered three hours after the mini-special session began shortly after midnight. Sunrise was the goal. Sunrise came. And went. 7:30 turned to 8 to 9.

Finally, at 9:45 came the House debate on the bill to resolve the $3 billion budget shortfall in this biennium. The bill increases the school shift to nearly $2 billion. If the feds’ $400 million check arrives, that money would be applied to the bottom line as a way to start on the business of balancing the deficit  in the next biennium budget, a shortfall that could be more than $8 billion.

Republicans took only a few shots at the bill.

“I do not want to leave this state for my children a smaller, colder California,” said Rep. Marty Seifert, who is leaving the House.

But Zellers, as promised during negotiations, stood in support of the bill.

“Long-term structural change is missing,” Zellers said. “We could have done that. We didn’t. That’s fine. We’ll have to do that another time. Not perfect, but it is what it is.”

That was his defense of the bill.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich admitted that “the media will measure winners and losers” and that the bill is not perfect.

“But I’m voting yes for leadership,” he said. “Get this session done, get out of here.”

Then, with final action in the House and Senate, the governor’s race began anew.

Emmer, whose influence has seemed mighty since he became the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate, was the first vote on the board with his no vote.

Though this was a deal that was reached between the Republican governor, Republican minority leaders and DFL leaders, Emmer blasted DFLers.

“They [the governor and Republican leaders] did the best they could,’’ said Emmer. “But they [DFLers] didn’t show leadership, just more of the same.”

Emmer wants reform to solve the deficit problem.

Anything specific in mind?

“Not today,” he said.

So the session is over. The fight has begun.

It was 10:30.

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 (18)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/17/2010 - 10:48 am.

    Oh, Lordy. The look on Pogy’s face says it all, doesn’t it?

    As a conservative Republican, I welcome the chance to hear Democrat candidates explain how expanding a program that President Obama has singled out as one of the two biggest contributors to the national deficit and debt can be considered thoughtful, prudent leadership.

    See you on the campaign trail, folks!

  2. Submitted by Steve Marchese on 05/17/2010 - 11:25 am.

    Ultimately, some sort of deal needed to be reached. Neither Pawlenty nor Kelliher — both of whom have their eyes focused on other offices — could afford to look like they were driving the state into the financial ditch for the sake of political gain. (Not that the governor hasn’t done a pretty good job of doing this already.)

    Sure, I would have liked the DFL legislative leadership to push for more. But, frankly, there was no way the governor was going to back down. Any repercussions — a state shutdown, in full or part, would be visited heavily on DFL shoulders in particular.

    I’m not thrilled with this — no one looks thrilled. This is the last budget deal with Pawlenty at the helm. I, for one, hope we get some grown-up leadership back in the governor’s mansion. Maybe then we can actually have real conversations about what is best for the state as opposed to this nonsense.

  3. Submitted by Tom Horner on 05/17/2010 - 11:37 am.

    This budget DOES drive Minnesota into a financial ditch. It only balances the state budget by imposing more burdens on businesses, schools and cities. Both Republicans and Democrats failed miserably, and with large DFL majorities and GOP controlling the executive branch, neither can duck responsibility. They took a deficit that already was approaching $7 billion for next year and turned it into a $9 billion shortfall. That’s not compromise, that’s a cop-out. And, yes, I have offered my thoughts on what I would have done differently —

  4. Submitted by Ambrose Charpentier on 05/17/2010 - 11:49 am.

    I guess that as a Republican, Tom Horner is taking responsibility for this mess.

  5. Submitted by Jim Roth on 05/17/2010 - 12:05 pm.

    This is a failure all around. Who did what to whom doesn’t really matter. If forced to pick I would lay most of blame on Pawlenty (and on the Minnesota voters who elected him not once but twice). My only observation is that we should look more carefully at the options at the polls this time around. My feeling about the current situation is, as Joan Didion once observed, “the center cannot hold.”

  6. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 05/17/2010 - 12:06 pm.

    A question for all of you policy wonks: Could the DFL leaders, at any time in this session, have done something different that would have brought about a positive change for Minnesota? We know we have a bigger debt going into the next biennium, and it doesn’t look as though a thing was done to address that. Did P’s total intransigence–and that of most of the republicans–make the outcome as bad as it is.

  7. Submitted by Brad Robinson on 05/17/2010 - 12:16 pm.

    Good to see you on the forum. But you know that anything the DFL would have offered that attempted anything more would have been vetoed immediately. Stalemate again. Just what we want. And let me get this straight, under a Gov. Emmer, this would have been vetoed. Wonderful, a fine future to look forward towards if he get elected. He’ll make Pawlenty look like a moderate. Emmer wanted DFL leadership? No he didn’t. He want the majority party to lay down and play dead. Let the minority rule.

  8. Submitted by Eric Larson on 05/17/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    Now the Pawlenty era closes. I disagree with those who say this has been a dark age. I say it was the great new beginning. When financial sanity triumphed over runaway government. 1. I believe our govt grew less then inflation. 2. With the exception of one tobacco tax, no state taxes went up for EIGHT YEARS! 3. The incestuous relationship known as LGA has been dealt a crippling blow. For those who have as strongly held opposing view, we only have two elections to settle our differences on who was right. Pawlenty won both. Now the cheap shot. With split control or DFL control or DFL dominance of the legislature, the result was always the same. He beat the DFL like a rented mule for eight years. And they still respond with the same cry-baby wailing. Nothing learned. What happens if Emmer wins and the Repubs take the house. I predict more of the same.

  9. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 05/17/2010 - 12:43 pm.

    Governor Pawlenty revealed his now-failed vision for the state of Minnesota during his press conference midday, today (Monday) – and his failure to understand even “Jr. High” mathematics. Clearly the higher mathematics of even his own human nature, let alone anyone else;s, are completely beyond his understanding.

    What he has envisioned is a state which is most attractive to the idle rich, where the finest schools are available (to those who can afford to pay directly for their children’s education and a few token individuals whom they deem deserving), the finest roads are available (to those who can afford to pay for the toll lanes), where the general populace is so desperate that they’ll work for starvation wages and so poorly educated that they won’t know the difference, where old people, the disabled and the mentally ill are left to rot, whether in nursing homes or their own homes makes no difference.

    He seems genuinely disappointed that he has not successfully taken our state to that same marvelous level of high-level affluence achieved by Nicaragua under Anastasio Samoza (where five key families once owned all property in the nation), but predicted that we will reach that euptopian state of affairs in future years.

    He did, strangely enough, clearly identify all his own psychological dysfunctions, but only in the way that he projected each and every one of them onto his democratic opponents, accusing them of everything of which he, himself, is so clearly guilty (and of which he is completely unconscious).

    All I can say in response is that I wish that life might now visit upon King Timmy all the blessings he has bestowed, in his regal wisdom, on the state of Minnesota, even as we who live here head toward the deepest part of the hole he has dug for us and begin the long, hard, climb back to becoming the state we were before he began trying to take us to the status of his own private Nicaragua.

  10. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 05/17/2010 - 02:06 pm.

    Greg, I think you are pretty accurate. I don’t know what kind of a Minnesota the conservatives, republicans, Pawlenty and some others envision–or maybe they don’t have a vision. I think it looks pretty bleak. Poor schools and poorly educated populace, no medical help to those who need it (and most of us do), a failing criminal justice system to overwhelmed to provide justice.
    What most repubs do not seem to get is that not increasing taxes costs much much more in the long run, in terms of lost jobs, an even worse economy, a rundown public insititutions of all kinds.
    I don’t think it can last, though. If everybody but a small percentage is on top, who are the corporations going to hire. There would be a huge pool of poorly educated people willing to work for poor wages, for a while, but what is those corporations need a computer programmer? A financial analyst? A director of an insurance company–oh, wait, some of them might have come from the pool–you name it. Import them from Wisconsin? Massachusetts?
    India? China? Probably have to.

  11. Submitted by dan buechler on 05/17/2010 - 02:09 pm.

    Jim Roth, Yeats said it first and is the most widely quoted also something about the falconer…all dealt with the aftermath of WWI a bloodbath beyond our comprehension see the latest French documentary 1914-1918. Keep writing.

  12. Submitted by Bill Coleman on 05/17/2010 - 02:56 pm.

    Pawlenty has kicked the Democrats around; there is no doubt there. The GOP has painted the DFL correctly. They just want to spend more. The drivers of the state budget are health care for the poor and the elderly. The only quality DFL strategy is to start figuring out a way to do those two things more efficiently. The only one willing to offer any radical transformation ideas is John Marty with his health care bill. That would save Minnesotans money by making our health care system simple and efficient. The overwhelming forces of the for-profit health care system has made many politicians afraid to support it.

    Education MN will go to its grave supporting the idea of one teacher standing in front of 25 kids as the future of education. DFLers will go to their election graves providing unyielding support to Education MN.

    The DFL should have proposed a Tom Emmer-like budget as a way to help people understand the GOP’s line of thinking. Give the people a taste of what the next four years would be like. Now, the Emmer people have got to be encouraged. He can tell them, “I am just like Pawlenty, only tougher.” That will be a tough message to beat in November.

  13. Submitted by linda higgins on 05/17/2010 - 03:53 pm.

    All these nice pictures and not a single one of the Minnesota Senate? Remember the Senate? The upper house? Eight senators announced their retirement, with about 136 years of experience between them. Their speeches were wonderful and heartfelt, and not a single word appears here about them. Not a picture. Not a word.

  14. Submitted by Gene Martinez on 05/17/2010 - 04:01 pm.

    The DFL Leadership GOT NOTHING. Once again, Pawlenty played them like chumps. The Supreme Court gave them a golden opportunity to reassert their constitutional authority to be “relevant” and again they let this master manipulator win. Why didn’t they stand firm on a revenue increase? Why didn’t they stand firm on early participation in federal health care reform for people on GAMC?
    The DFL Leadership acts like an abused spouse who is constantly making excuses for the partner who is abusing them. And make no mistake, Tim Pawlenty has abused our constitution and continue to abuse a legislative leadership who lack the spine to stand up and say “NO MORE” !

  15. Submitted by chuck holtman on 05/17/2010 - 06:09 pm.

    I’m not a big DFL fan, but there wasn’t anything to be done. A negotiated outcome is possible only if the preferred outcome for each party requires the other party’s assent. The DFL’s preferred outcome (a reasonable budget bill, for the good of the state) required Republican assent. Pawlenty’s preferred outcome (complete DFL capitulation or a veto, for national optics) did not. The DFL’s only option is to trust that the voters recognize that for Pawlenty and his caucus, ideology trumps their real interests. Pawlenty calculates that the voters are more interested in a governor that is passionate about the fishing opener (the local equivalent of drinking a beer with GW Bush) than one that is passionate about stewarding the state, and unfortunately he probably is right. So we get the government we deserve.

  16. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/17/2010 - 09:07 pm.

    You have to give Pawlenty credit. He is able to get out of dodge and continue campaigning under the banner: “I did not raise taxes”. It must be considered good politics to leave the deficits for someone else to clean up.

    This solution only exacerbates the long term problem. To solve the long term budget problem it will take the kind of leadership that is able to make some very difficult choices. All these shifts, deferrals and one time monies, call them what you want. They are future tax increases in one form or another.

    Pawlenty has just demonstrated what happens when you substitute personal ambition for good governance.

  17. Submitted by Rod Loper on 05/18/2010 - 08:30 am.

    His press conference was vintage Tim. Snide references to his opponents. Prase for himself as a fiscal steward and visionary. I think of that stewardship whenever I try to navigate the Highway
    62 snarl or cross the 35W bridge. I hope the national press will not give him a pass on these things as our locals have.

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