With the governor’s veto stamp hovering over the budget-balancing bill passed by the Legislature Monday without the support of a single Republican, do DFLers have a Plan B?
Is there any way that the governor and Senate and House leaders can find a compromise point as the session moves toward Monday’s conclusion?
In a conference call with reporters this morning, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher indicated that the line in the sand for DFLers is finding a way to pay back K-12 funding, where shifts and borrowing by Gov. Tim Pawlenty have shorted schools by $2.7 billion of the $14 billion they are to receive in the current biennium.
Those massive shifts, of course, have been a major tactic in how the governor has managed to balance the budget without increasing taxes.
“We are certainly looking for Republicans with ideas on what we should do,” Kelliher said of the annual collision course the Legislature and the governor have been on. “They’re in a place where they have a strong hand.”
But their legislative hand only is strong if they’re willing to come up with some form of payback system for schools, Kelliher added. She believes the only way that can happen is if at least a handful of Republicans are willing to find some form of “new revenue,” meaning some form of tax increases.
“There has to be a way to pay back,” she said.
Pondering a veto override vote
With a governor’s veto of the DFL plan a certainty, Kelliher said that both the House and Senate are pondering the possibility of attempting an override vote.
Despite the 34-33 vote in the Senate Monday, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller indicated he believes that most, if not all, of the 12 DFLers who voted with Republicans against the DFL bill would return to the flock if called on for an override vote. Senate DFLers have a veto-proof majority if all support the override.
Kelliher, too, seemed confident that the 16 DFL House members who voted against the bill would support their caucus for an attempted override vote. But she would also need to attract at least three Republicans to the DFL side to succeed in an override. That seems like an impossible task.
For the moment, the DFLers are intent on trying to position themselves with Minnesotans as the grown-ups in this dispute, not the governor and the Republican legislators.
“This [budget situation] is so far beyond one person’s ambition,” said Kelliher of Pawlenty’s repeated claims that he will not allow any new taxes.
She said the state is in historic “fiscal peril.” DFLers, she said, have pulled “the curtain back” on Pawlenty.
“The curtain is back, and the Wizard of Oz is standing behind the curtain,” she said. “It turns out he is a regular person who has no plan.”
She also noted that the Legislature has made more than $3 billion in cuts in the last two years in its efforts to balance the budget. Republicans, of course, say that no one has even noticed those cuts, proving government is too big and too costly.
“The idea that people aren’t being harmed is not believable,” Kelliher said of the cuts.
Other legislative work nearly wrapped up
The one thing the Legislature and the governor do have is time — to either balance the budget or lob more insults at each other.
Kelliher said that the House will finish up all its business by the end of this week, leaving only the budget to deal with.
Among remaining major pieces of business in the House is an education bill that gives the governor some of what he wants toward his call for education reform. Included are such items as opening more avenues for people with nontraditional backgrounds to become teachers and adding annual evaluations of teachers and principals.
The bill, Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, said, “should enable us to be in the competition for [federal] Race to the Top funding.”
But, in the next breath, Greiling also admitted that her bill is filled with items that will not please Pawlenty. For example, the bill would not allow the state to continue to “borrow” money from K-12 funds to balance the budget.
The Senate version of the bill has fewer poison pills, and Greiling seems to believe that a conference committee version of the education bill will have a chance to pass muster with the governor and that the state will try to get back in the race for the federal cash.
“If he vetoes,” said Greiling, “he has vetoed Race to the Top as well.”
But mostly, these last days of the session will be about balancing the budget and whether somewhere in some desk at the Capitol, there is a Plan B.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.