Contingency planning not as good as compromise

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Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) has been in the minority party for most of her 13 years in the Legislature, including partial government shutdown in 2005. She urged level heads to prevail and for House leaders to move away from “brinksmanship” as the state faces a shutdown.

The former House Taxes Committee chair told members of the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy that in her experience, compromising with a governor of the opposite party is best for Minnesotans even though it’s unpleasant to compromise.

“It is the majority’s obligation to pass a bill that gets signed. And having had Gov. Pawlenty sign six of my tax bills, I know it’s not fun. It’s not pleasant. I didn’t get a lot of the stuff I wanted. And I sure didn’t like caving.

“The Legislature is going to have to pass a bill that this governor, not some other governor, will sign,” Lenczewski said.

During the hearing, Republican commission members peppered Minnesota Management & Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter with questions about Gov. Mark Dayton’s priorities for funding “priority one” and “priority two” state services, defined as those with an immediate impact on public health or safety, or which could have a severe statewide economic impact if not delivered in a few days.

Members also asked Schowalter how the governor arrived at his proposed contingency plan and how closely the governor was involved. The commissioner said the governor’s Statewide Contingency Response Team included himself, key staff members, legal advisors and commissioners, and that the governor approved the plan.

Several members said they have passed a balanced budget and are waiting for the governor to present a detailed counter-offer, not the general proposal to add $1.8 billion in revenue and cut the same amount in spending he’s made.

For emphasis, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) held up each of the budget bills passed this session as he listed them, the date they were passed and the amount they appropriated or raised in revenue. All, except agriculture, were vetoed by Dayton.

“In our opinion a shutdown is not necessary. We can avoid this and we appreciate any and all help you can give us in these negotiations,” Commission Chairwoman Sen. Amy Koch (R-Buffalo) told the commissioner.

Schowalter said that Dayton’s written response to the attorney general’s June 13 district court petition for authority to fund core state services included a request that a mediator be appointed to help negotiate a budget solution. The response states that both former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz and former Justice James Gilbert are willing to serve as a mediator if requested to do so.

“The governor does not want a government shutdown. The governor wants a balanced compromise. He still hopes that the legislative majority will voluntarily fulfill its constitutional duty to pass appropriations bills that will be signed or that have the support of two-thirds of each house,” the response stated. A two-thirds majority, or 90 votes in the House and 45 in the Senate, is required to override a gubernatorial veto.

“I think the public thinks what we’re doing is foolish and we need to move on,” Lenczewski said.