There was no Plan B.
There was no drama. No fireworks. No memorable speeches. No last-minute efforts to come together.
Nothing, except for a lot of people looking at their wristwatches.
“Like New Year’s Eve at 10:30,” said Rep. Frank Hornstein, a DFLer from Minneapolis. “It’s excruciating. You’re tired, but you know you have to stay up until 12.”
This was a really bad New Year’s Eve Party. But the members of the Minnesota House and the Senate stayed the course. Then, with sighs of relief instead of cheers, they went home to await a call from Gov. Mark Dayton for a special session.
Don’t expect special session anytime soon
It’s unrealistic to expect that call to come anytime soon.
Dayton said in a statement released last night, “Here I am in the middle — and they haven’t moved.”
The dicey part of this whole business now is that Republicans can’t move, at least not anytime soon. Those freshmen members who gave them the majority in November are absolutely committed to not raising taxes.
And Dayton is just as committed to adding at least some new revenue with a fourth income-tax tier on the wealthiest.
In so many ways, the Legislature’s last night was a reflection of much of the session.
Outside the respective chambers, there were several hundred people, chanting. On this last night, it was workers from public employee unions. They gathered, on a gorgeous spring evening, on the lawn in front of the Capitol steps, ate hot dogs, and then, around 8:30 paraded inside.
For most of the next 3 hours and 30 minutes, they chanted outside the House and Senate chambers.
“Tax the rich!”
The show of support from public workers is vital to Dayton and the DFL, for if this stalemate continues, there will be a government shutdown on July 1. Given that many freshman Republicans have so little respect for government, the idea of a shutdown causes little anxiety.
If there’s a shutdown, the first people who will be missing paychecks are the sort of public workers who were at the capitol Monday night.
Are they prepared to take a shutdown, or will they demand that Dayton get a deal done?
Public employees preparing for state shutdown
“They’re prepared,” said Eliot Seide, director of Local 5 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees.
Seide said officers of AFSCME chapters across the state have discussed what will happen in event of a shutdown.
There’s really little choice but to stick with the governor’s plan, Seide said. If the Republican budget plan were enacted — piece by piece, it will be vetoed by Dayton — he said at least 11,000 public workers would lose their jobs. The cuts run across every level of virtually every piece of Republican legislation, from calls for a 15 percent reduction in the state workforce to cuts to Local Government Aid, which would create more cuts.
And so they came and they chanted — just as so many other organizations have come and chanted, typically against elements of the Republican agenda.
But Republican leaders believe, perhaps correctly, the chants they’ve heard at the Capitol don’t resonate outside St. Paul.
And this morning, GOP legislative leaders will do the tradition state fly-around. They’ll go from city to city, talking of what they accomplished this session.
DFLers, of course, think they accomplished nothing.
“You’re only accomplishments have been to divide Minnesotans,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen a few moments before the clock struck midnight. He called the session “a colossal failure of Republican leadership.”
Matt Dean, the House majority leader, didn’t even make an effort to respond to Thissen’s stronger-than-usual words.
As Thissen was giving his closing remarks, Dean stood and began to speak over Thissen. Thissen said, “Go ahead.”
His final words of this session?
For sure, they’ll be back Jan. 24
“The hour of midnight has arrived,” Dean said. He went on to announce that the Legislature would reconvene at noon on Jan. 24, 2012.
And that was it.
So was the session that big of dud?
Certainly, if you go back to January, when the new Republican leaders took charge, the tone was hugely different from what it was on the last night of the session.
Then, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, Dean and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch were all so proud, so excited. They were going to bring new clarity, new vision, new order to Minnesota.
Zellers was honest in the moments after the session ended. Some of the early-day hopes were gone “after the first month,” he admitted.
Still, he tried to talk up the accomplishments of the session.
The Republicans passed a balanced budget and sent it to the governor, “so we fulfilled our constitutional requirement,” Zellers said. “Granted, last part of that is for the governor to sign it.”
Zellers added that the Republicans and Dayton had agreed to a regulation-streamlining bill early in the session, and that, he said, “was a high priority.” They’d also agreed on alternative teacher licensure.
He also added that the Republicans had passed reform bills “that change the way government works.” He called the education bill and its reforms “a generational shift” in the way the education system will be funded.
But, of course, most of the reforms he talked about are likely to be vetoed.
Interestingly, Zellers did not mention the marriage amendment in listing the party’s accomplishments.
Meantime, Thissen was eager to hang that controversial action on the GOP.
Again, though, what was most striking about this last day was how little was done.
Republican leaders and the governor didn’t hold any budget talks. The Senate spent most of the day in recess.
A frustrated Republican
The Senate’s refusal to meet in session frustrated Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.
Howes desperately has been trying to get a small bill passed for a couple of years now. The bill would require school buses to have a safety arm attached to the front. (The arms go out when children get off the bus, which forces kids to walk in a way which they can been seen by both the driver and oncoming cars.)
Most metro school districts require that their buses have the arms, Howes said. Most rural districts do not.
This year, his stand-alone bill passed in the House, with little opposition, two weeks ago. But he couldn’t get a vote on the Senate floor.
Howes bristled as the time slipped away and the Senate chamber stayed empty.
“It’s not a big bill,” Howes said, “but it can save the life of a kid.”
With an hour left in the session, he went to the Senate chamber, pleading for action on the bill.
He came back, disgusted at his own party’s leadership. They weren’t going to take up such a small bill on the last night.
Nothing was done.
In fact, the Senate adjourned about 15 minutes before the midnight closure.
In that body, Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia, took one more long populist swipe at the Republicans for their failure to see the good that government does, the roads, the schools, the universities. All Republicans were interested in, he said, was “protecting the rich.”
Assistant Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, followed Bakk’s blast with some kind words about the leadership of Koch. Then Koch quoted Churchill, and that was it in the Senate.
A few senators stopped by the House chamber to see if there was going to be any flourish to the finish.
What they heard were the final words of DFLers talking the Legacy Fund bill to death.
The Legacy bill will rise again in special session, as will a bonding bill.
But it’s unclear when that will happen.
For now, there’s no Plan B.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.