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.”
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.