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Is veto stamp wearing out, or is Pawlenty now hinting at conciliation?

Is his veto stamp wearing out, or was that the sound of just a bit of conciliation in Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s voice this morning?

In the last three days, the governor has vetoed five bills — the DFL budget-balancing bill, a bill that supporters say would have lowered cost of health insurance for teachers, a bill that would have codified some death-time rights of same-sex partners, a pension bill and a huge Health and Human Services measure.

And he indicated that he’s got his eyes on an education bill that’s in conference committee that, to him, also looks like a veto target.

Yet, at a news conference this morning, Pawlenty made it sound as if some tweaks here and there in at least a couple of the bills would lead to his signature.

Start with the biggie, the Health and Human Services bill that supporters say would save jobs, give health insurance coverage to more of Minnesota’s neediest and bring in $1.4 billion in federal money.

Pawlenty vetoed the bill, indicating he believes the bill doesn’t do enough to “contain” health care costs.

Not surprisingly, that veto led to a number of angry DFL responses, including this one from House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher: “With more than 240,000 Minnesotans out of work and the state facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed 21,000 jobs and pulled the plug on $1.4 billion in badly needed federal funding. That just doesn’t make sense.”

Gov. Tim Pawlenty
REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Gov. Tim Pawlenty

Pawlenty indicated that part of his problem with the bill is that the House-Senate conference committee that proudly unveiled the bill to reporters on Wednesday hadn’t negotiated with his staff.

“Disappointing,” the governor said. “They knew all the things [he might object to] going into conference, but they wanted the bill shaped the way they wanted it.”

Still, the governor seemed to indicate that with some work, there might be a revised measure he will sign.

He delivered the same somewhat-hopeful message with the pension bill.

Part of his thinking may be that there just might be votes to override his vetoes of the two bills. Many rural legislators, who are plugged into the grave concerns of hospitals in their districts, like the language of the new health bill, mostly because statewide hospital administrators like the reimbursements it offers.

The pension bill, too, passed with bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. It’s possible those bodies could override the governor on the issue.

The education bill faces a far more uncertain future. It’s currently resting in a conference committee.

Pawlenty today praised the “heroic” efforts of two DFL senators, Terri Bonoff and LeRoy Stumpf, in putting together a bill that Pawlenty says is more in keeping with education reforms supported by both him and the Obama administration. That bill would seem to fly in the face of the interests of the powerful Education Minnesota union forces.

On the other hand, Pawlenty made it clear that he will veto an education bill favored by the House (and gets a wink and a nod from the teachers’ union).

Alternative teacher licensure is only “a small part” of what Pawlenty said an education reform bill needs.

What makes the education bill all the more interesting is that Kelliher last week received the endorsement of Education Minnesota: Would the House speaker really let a conference committee bill disliked by the union pass through the House?

Understand this. The governor’s going fishing for the annual opener on Saturday. And though the legislative session doesn’t technically end until midnight Monday, no bills can be passed after midnight Sunday.

There appear to be two key areas that will determine whether there can be a relatively peaceful end to the session.

Besides no new taxes, Pawlenty made it clear today that he wants the Legislature to make his temporary (and, as it turned out, illegal) unallotments from last year made permanent.

Such a move, the governor said, would help “fix” Minnesota’s long-term budget problem.

He believes that if the Legislature made those unallotments permanent, the budget deficit in the next biennium would be closer to $2.6 billion, rather than the $5 billion (minimum) deficit DFLers say the next governor faces.

Meantime, DFL legislators say there must be a guaranteed form of payback for the withheld K-12 education funds. In trying to balance the budget, the governor has “shifted” more than $2 billion in school payments. The DFL says that Pawlenty has never proposed a payback method for those shifts.

So, the differences aren’t small, but everyone loses if a special session is needed to wrap up work.

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 (6)

  1. Submitted by Eric Larson on 05/13/2010 - 10:42 pm.

    Dear Next Gov. of Minnesota. Please explain to all state employees and local governments that get state aid. That they need to do less with less and GET PAID less to do it. That by doing so, the state’s budget will get very close to if not balanced. Thanks!

  2. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/14/2010 - 09:56 am.

    Eric,

    Thank you for making the Republican agenda specific. for decades it’s been a bait-n-switch promise of more/same for less. The real agenda was simply to cut programs, the rhetoric allowed cuts while forestalling any public discussion about what exactly was going to be cut. So yes, please explain to us exactly what government services your going to make 5 billion dollars worth of cuts to. Roads, education, fire/police, health care? How exactly is that going to affect our communities, and what exactly are the benefits and damages? We should have started with that conversation decades ago instead of this “small government” drivel.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/14/2010 - 09:59 am.

    Doug,

    I’m not sure how you conclude that a special session is a loss for everyone? Pawlenty’s unallotments are a win-win of some kind?

  4. Submitted by Paul Gustafson on 05/14/2010 - 10:21 am.

    I think there is a glimmer of hope that something can get done by session’s end – or lay the groundwork for a quick special session.

    The reason is almost everybody has skin in the game: all the legislators who aren’t retiring face reelection, and the governor wants to be a national candidate in 2012.

    Pawlenty’s appointments to the Minnesota Supreme Court Thursday arguably bought him cover with his party’s right-wing to do some compromising to get a budget deal.

    We now have a new associate Minnesota Supreme Court justice who is just 35 years old, has not been a judge at any level or even practiced law that much.

    Thirty-five is very young even for an appointment to the trial bench in Minnesota, much less the state’s highest court.

    That should take away any credible argument by Minnesota Republicans against Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  5. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/14/2010 - 10:50 am.

    Employee salaries in many areas constitute only a small percentage of the budget, particularly in the big ticket areas such as entitlements. Medicaid is a prime example.

    Education is another huge part of the budget. Are teachers overpaid? Consider these numbers for Minnesota teachers:

    Salary range: $20,131 – $68,612

    Average teacher salary: $47,393

    Average beginning teacher salary: $29,907

    http://www.teachersalaryinfo.com/average-teacher-salary-minnesota.html

    The mean wages for a Rochester, MN, carpenter are about 10% less than the average Minnesota teacher’s salary: $42,690.

    http://books.mongabay.com/employment/MN/MN_Rochester_47-2031.html

    The average weekly wage for all private employment in Minnesota in the 3rd quarter of 2009 was $832 or $43,264 annually. Again, about 10% less than the average teacher’s salary.

    http://www.positivelyminnesota.com/apps/lmi/qcew/ResultsDisp.aspx

    This is not to say that there are not areas in which government-funded positions might be eliminated or salary structures revised. But the problem is not as simple as Mr. Larsen suggests, by any means.

  6. Submitted by Eric Dakota on 05/14/2010 - 01:09 pm.

    My understanding is that the bill as it stood was funded by the feds for a limited period of time, and from thereafter, the State budget would be encumbered with another unfunded program. Perhaps the federal government can do away with the unemployment situation (resulting in the loss of revenue to our state) in the same manner they fixed health care. They can just fine us if we are ever unemployed, and have the IRS collect our additional fine.

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