First week a busy one for Legislature

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Despite there being only 45 days in the 2008 legislative session, longtime local representative Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, said the second part of the biennium tends to be the easiest.

“Remember we do a biennial budget, so we do the hardest work first,” she said, referring to the 2007 session.

As for the second year, Kahn said, “When things move, they move very quickly.”

In the first week of the session, there’s been significant activity at the Capitol, as different committees of lawmakers have already begun discussing a comprehensive transportation package and a compensation fund for Interstate-35W bridge collapse victims.

Late Thursday, the Legacy Act – a bill calling on Minnesota voters to raise the state sales tax rate, by 3/8 of a percent, to invest more money in natural resources, wildlife, the arts and cultural heritage – passed quickly through the House and Senate.

The act will come before Minnesota voters – but not the governor – for approval in November because it relates to a constitutional amendment.

Also on Thursday, University President Bob Bruininks testified in front of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy and Finance Division on the subject of the University’s $225.5 million capital budget request.

A new Science Teaching and Student Services building, renovation of Folwell Hall and the construction of a new Bell Museum of Natural History on the St. Paul campus are several of the major projects highlighted in the capital request, in addition to almost $100 million in general maintenance funds.

Just a day before Bruininks’s visit, both houses recessed for the governor’s State of the State address, held this year at the St. Cloud Civic Center.

Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance in the Humphrey Institute, said the location chosen for this year’s address, which is usually held at the Capitol, says a lot about the political climate.

Seeing immediate challenges by the DFL-controlled Legislature, Jacobs said the governor’s St. Cloud address was a way for him to discuss his agenda outside the Capitol and, quite literally, bring his ideas to the people, as Pawlenty typically sees a strong showing of support in that area of the state.

In his address, Pawlenty mentioned, among other things, his commitment to restraining tax increases and government spending, “homegrown energy,” education reforms and funding transportation infrastructure.

“Strong differences of opinion exist regarding transportation funding,” Pawlenty said Wednesday. “But we all agree on one thing – we cannot continue the stalemate that has existed for three decades. I remain hopeful that we can overcome the politics and rhetoric of this debate and pass a bipartisan transportation bill this session.”

Despite his remarks, it appears the governor is losing ground on the transportation issue.

“The word at the Capitol is that the governor is no longer a player,” Jacobs said.

An override majority that could nullify Pawlenty’s anticipated veto of a comprehensive transportation bill currently exists in the Senate, and the House is very close to having one, as well, Jacobs said.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said as much on Monday when he told The Minnesota Daily before the start of the session: “We’re going to pass three bills early,” a comprehensive transportation bill being one of them.

Jacobs said he expects an override of the governor’s veto sometime in the next month – something that would be an “unusual event,” not only in terms of Pawlenty’s administration, which has never experienced a veto override, but also in terms of state precedent.

Historically, Jacobs said, veto overrides are rare for the state of Minnesota.

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