The session ends: Pawlenty wins again-or did he?

Governor Tim Pawlenty went before the microphones Monday morning after all-night negotiations with exhausted legislative leaders struggling to meet the required adjournment at Midnight, May 17, and he spent most of his news conference crowing about his victories and the claiming that he (the almighty “we”) had forever altered the culture of this, “the most liberal state in the union,” one that had spent decades of too much government, too much spending and too much taxing. The questions remain: why can’t a veto-proof DFL Senate majority and a top-heavy DFL House majority, 201 legislators cannot prevail in enacting a balanced budget resolution in a time of huge deficits – where fair taxation accompanies severe cuts to programs for the neediest Minnesotans. Why do many advocates believe that it could have been far worse when the governor vetoed dozens of critical bills to assist real people? Despite being told by the Supreme Court that his unallotting last year was beyond the pale of his authority as governor, Tim Pawlenty generally prevailed in enacting the very cuts he tried to make illegally last year. Why? Continue Reading

What’s Pawlenty vetoing today?

In the last week, Gov. Tim Pawlenty has killed seven bills with the swipe of his veto pen, with the promise of more to come as the session ticks down toward its close Monday.Pawlenty has said he’ll veto bills allowing surviving domestic partners to claim their deceased loved one’s remains and a state pensions overhaul bill that Pawlenty said doesn’t cut costs enough.The first bill doesn’t have the votes for an override, but the second did and enjoyed significant Republican support.Since Pawlenty fancies himself the “state’s goalie,” blocking shots from the DFL Legislature he says would make Minnesota a worse place to live, let’s take a look at the pucks he’s already stopped this week:* HF 2037 from Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, and Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, would have eliminated the state’s $3 billion budget deficit through K-12 payment shifts, state aid and health and human services cuts, and by creating a fourth-tier income tax bracket.The bill passed with only one vote to spare in the Senate, and Pawlenty said in his veto message that he opposed the new top income tax bracket and all tax increases to solve the deficit.* HF 2614 from Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, was the omnibus health and human services bill. It would have cut $114 million in HHS spending and signed Minnesota up for the early federal Medicaid expansion program to replace the state’s General Assistance Medical Care program.The bill did not get a veto-proof majority in the House of Representatives, and Pawlenty said in his veto message that the bill didn’t cut enough spending and would have put in place new surcharges to pay for expanded care.* SF 915 from Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, would have required school district employees to buy into a statewide public health insurance pool.This bill didn’t have a veto-proof majority, and Pawlenty said in his veto message that the bill would remove local control from school districts while not addressing inflationary health care costs.* SF 2790 from Sen. Mee Moua, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Continue Reading

Will Pawlenty preserve discrimination beyond the grave?

Survivors of deceased domestic partners would soon have the power to inherit their partners’ remains, if Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs a bill headed his way in the closing days of the legislative session.SF 341 from Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon, DFL-Duluth, passed the Minnesota House of Representatives 78-55 on Tuesday and the Minnesota Senate 41-24 on Wednesday and is headed to Pawlenty for his signature.The bill would write domestic partners into Minnesota law for the first time and give them legal status when it comes to inheriting remains and suing the state in the event of a wrongful death claim.Murphy said the bill repeals two of 515 provisions in Minnesota law that discriminate against committed couples.The House vote comes on the same day that three same-sex couples filed a lawsuit challenging Minnesota’s marriage laws, which require a marriage to be between one man and one woman.Pawlenty’s spokeman, Brian McClung, told Minnesota Public Radio that the bill was “unnecessary and seems to be a political exercise to get the term ‘domestic partner’ into state law,” raising the possibility that Pawlenty, a likely 2012 Republican presidential hopeful, would veto the bill.Republicans accused DFLers of bringing the socially controversial bill to the floor to distract attention from the state’s $3 billion budget deficit, but Murphy said repealing discriminatory laws shouldn’t be controversial.Several rural DFLers voted against the measure, leaving it well short of the number of votes required to overturn a Pawlenty veto, if it comes. Continue Reading

The DFL budget solution: cuts, shifts and a little veto bait

DFL leaders in the Minnesota Legislature on Monday unveiled a budget deficit-erasing bill that gives Gov. Tim Pawlenty most of what he wanted, but will still probably get him to pick up his veto pen. 
HF 2037 from Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, is moving fast through both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate Monday, and could be on its way to Pawlenty’s desk by the time you read this. The bill would ratify most of the $2.7 billion in unallotment cuts Pawlenty made last year, including $1.75 billion in K-12 education payment shifts that will cost local school districts money, even though the Minnesota Supreme Court last week decided Pawlenty had gone beyond the law in making those cuts. Check the spreadsheet out here for the blow-by-blow accounting. Minnesota Budget Bites has an analysis here. That includes $100 million in cuts to higher education that will drive up tuition and put college out of reach for more Minnesotans, and $150 million in cuts to programs that serve the poorest, most disadvantaged Minnesotans. Continue Reading

Why the MN Legislature will fail to find a budget solution

Want a list of reasons why our elected leaders won’t solve the state’s budget deficit by May 17 like they were supposed to? Let’s count the ways in which they will fail:1) Tim Pawlenty is running for the Republican nomination for President, and he can’t sign any bill into law that includes new revenues to help the state out of its budget deficit.2) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to ratify all of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts unless every Republican in the Senate and House of Representatives votes for them, and they won’t because taking direct responsibility for those cuts would kill their chances in November.3) Republican lawmakers have every incentive to make the DFL leadership look like it can’t get anything done and no incentive to help fix the mess as they go into the November elections.4) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to a budget deal that doesn’t include new revenues because they’d have agreed to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable Minnesotans while leaving the wealthiest untouched. Incompatible with reason 1.5) $408 million in enhanced Medicaid matching funds won’t be approved at the federal level before the Legislature adjourns, yet the money is essential to any budget deal.6) Nobody really knows for sure how big the budget deficit is anymore, since the MN Supreme Court ruled Pawlenty’s unallotment actions did not follow the law. A best estimate from Minnesota Budget Bites is that there’s still $700 million to cover, if the Legislature agrees to ratify Pawlenty’s delayed payments to K-12 school districts, but it’s still not clear how much of his $2.7 billion got wiped out in the court decision.7) The House may be prepared to go along with that K-12 shift, but the DFL Senate under Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, shows no signs of agreeing to any of Pawlenty’s actions from last year. That shift represents $1.8 billion.8) House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, is the DFL Party’s endorsed candidate for governor, and won’t be able to reprise her past role as the sane, rational adult in the room when she and Pawlenty and Pogemiller meet to find an agreement. Continue Reading

Supremes tell Pawlenty to settle down, Legislature to step up

In a 4-3 ruling delivered Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court  essentially rejected $2.7 billion in unilateral spending cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty made last year after he vetoed a tax bill that would have raised that amount at the end of the session.

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee who’s retiring this June, along with Justices Alan Page, Paul Anderson and Helen Meyer, decided Pawlenty did not follow the law when it came to unalloting more than $5.3 million in approved spending for Minnesota’s Special Diet Program.

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Pawlenty nixes college student credit transfer fix

You’d think that Minnesota State Colleges and Universities students would be able to transfer college credits within the system without losing one in 10 of them. 
You’d also think that, after a Legislative Auditor’s report quoted MnSCU administrators who said transferring credits within the system is still too hard, the Legislature could pass and Gov. Tim Pawlenty would quickly approve a bill requiring MnSCU to fix the issue. You’d be wrong on both counts, and election-year politics just might be the reason why. The Legislature did overwhelmingly pass HF 3164, from Rep. Larry Haws, DFL-St. Cloud. The House of Representatives voted 110-20 to approve it and the Senate voted unanimously to concur, sending the bill to Pawlenty. Continue Reading

Children, disabled, poor in DFL Legislature’s crosshairs again

Mental health services for children and adults, assistance for poor families, vulnerable adults, and home-based elderly adults would suffer the most from $154 million in cuts to a health and human services budget bill making its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives.HF 2614 from Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, received approval from the House Finance Committee and looks ready for a floor vote next week.And while lawmakers delayed or removed some painful cuts to nursing homes and hospitals, the bill cuts several services for disadvantaged Minnesotans in the coming year, according to Minnesota Budget Bites, including:* $22 million in cuts to mental health services for children and adults.* $10 million in cuts to grants to counties for serving vulnerable children and adults subject to abuse.* Cuts to the state’s welfare program that eliminate eligibility for families earning 110 percent of the federal poverty line and families that have a car worth more than $7,500. In addition, families living in subsidized housing would see their assistance cut $100 a month, and $4 million was cut from a job skills program for recipients.* Home-based disabled adults receiving Medicaid assistance would see their eligibility restricted in a plan similar to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal.On the positive side, there are no more cuts to the General Assistance program for adults without children, the bill reverses unallotments for dental care, none of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts are made permanent, and the bill anticipates adopting the early expansion of federal Medicaid programs in the federal health care reform bill.That last part would make recent cuts in General Assistance Medical Care unnecessary, but to make them happen, the state would have to match the federal money with dollars from the state’s Health Care Access fund, which would leave the fund with a $410 million deficit by 2013.A Senate bill, SF 2337 from Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, was introduced on Thursday. It would cut $114 million in services. Pawlenty’s budget proposal would cut $436 million.Everybody’s budgets count on $400 million in federal health care dollars that haven’t been approved by Congress yet and might not be by the Legislature’s May 17 adjornment deadline. Continue Reading

Making room for bikes, walkers on MN streets

A parade of Minnesotans who want Minnesota’s streets to be friendlier to pedestrians, bicyclists and people with limited mobility will deliver postcards to Gov. Tim Pawlenty on Monday urging his support for legislation that aims to do just that.The group of 50 supporters of the so-called “Complete Streets” bill, which passed the House of Representatives 92-37 on Wednesday, plans to deliver 5,000 postcards asking Pawlenty to support the bill if it reaches his desk.The House bill, HF 2801 from Rep. Mike Obermueller, DFL-Eagan, would require the Minnesota Department of Transportation to take into account the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and people with limited mobility as well as motorists when they design new streets and street improvements.Its companion bill in the Senate, SF 2461 from Sen. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, awaits a floor vote.More than 500 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed and 20,000 injured in the last decade on Minnesota roads, according to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, which is leading the campaign to win Pawlenty’s support.Implementing the Complete Streets policy could result in safer crossing points, more bicycle lanes, more sidewalks and other design elements that would encourage alternate transportation use.The bill encourages, but does not require, local governments to participate as well as the state.The group plans to leave from the MEP’s office at 546 Rice Street in St. Paul at noon and walk to the Capitol to deliver the postcards to the governor’s office.Crossing guards from Red Pine Elementary School in Eagan will lead the parade, and school children from a sixth-grade class at St. Paul’s Franklin Elementary School will also participate. Continue Reading