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.
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.”
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.