House GOP leadership puts a lid on spending billsby Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
It hasn't gotten as much attention as the stadium, but it's been a wild couple of weeks on the budget front in the Minnesota House. Republican leaders had planned to pass as many as nine budget bills to take care of various spending priorities. But to their dismay, those bills were accumulating initiatives that were picking up votes from Democrats and moderate Republicans. House leaders are trying to control a razor-thin Republican majority, which is getting tugged from both the right and the middle.
St. Paul, Minn. — First, it was the state government bill. During a debate that lasted two days, a mix of Republicans and Democrats added measure after measure. One would continue to fund state government if the Legislature can't agree on a budget, a provision opposed by House GOP leaders. Then, over the objections of Gov. Pawlenty, the higher education bill contained a proposal to allow illegal immigrants who graduate from a Minnesota high school to qualify for in-state tuition.
And late one night in the Taxes Committee, two Republicans voted with Democrats to amend the K-12 education bill to collect more taxes from Minnesota companies that do business overseas. Rep. Connie Berdardy, DFL-Fridley, proposed the measure. She said the money would have gone to Minnesota schools for property tax relief.
"And it becomes really frustrating when the next day, they kill all the bills so it's no longer in play," Bernardy said.
House GOP leaders said they would go back to the drawing board and pass just one spending bill instead of many, reflecting what the Senate is doing. Some legislators say Republican leaders are stifling the will of the House, by getting rid of bills that contained bipartisan initiatives.
Rep. Barb Sykora, Republican-Excelsior, doesn't view it that way. Sykora, who chairs the Education Finance Committee, said she wasn't thrilled to scuttle the education bill she'd worked on for weeks. But Sykora said she didn't want her bill to contain Bernardy's proposal, because she thinks it would hit some of Minnesota's biggest corporations, who might then leave the state. Sykora doesn't blame her two Republican colleagues for voting for it, because it could be seen as a vote for education.
"When somebody purposely brings forth an amendment that's very hard to vote against, people have to make a decision whether they're going to stay with the caucus on something or whether they're going to vote their district, so to speak," Sykora said. "And it's very difficult in a year like this, because with the nastiness of the last few campaigns, you know that's going to show up in a big colorful brochure, making you look like you did something really crummy."
The two Republicans who voted for Bernardy's amendment in the tax committee, Dan Dorman and Larry Howes, have been known to cross party lines in the past. Dorman, R-Albert Lea, has been wooed by Democrats to switch parties. He said Republicans should try to find some middle ground with the other side of the aisle.
"Moving to the right of the governor is not going to gain you votes," Dorman said. "The state is not that conservative, our caucus isn't that conservative, the House isn't that conservative."
The other Republican who voted with Dorman and Democrats on the corporate tax amendment, Larry Howes of Walker, said he won't apologize for working with DFLers on certain issues.
"I'm a Republican, but I'm not a lock-step Republican. There are good ideas on both sides of the aisle," said Howes. "Pick the good ones and move forward."
Howes said it's unfortunate that some of the proposals contained in the now-dead budget bills may be shelved. They could be revived as separate bills, but they may also get lost in the push to wrap up the session quickly.
The new slimmed-down spending bill will be sponsored by Rep. Jim Knoblach, Republican-St. Cloud. The Ways and Means Committee chairman defends the decision to toss out the other bills, saying House Republicans should go back to basics in this non-budget year. Knoblach, who's also a candidate for Congress in the Sixth District, said Republicans have only 68 House members, the bare minimum needed to pass a bill. He said that makes party discipline imperative.
"When any one member can pretty much scuttle an issue if you don't have any Democrats, that does make things very tight and perilous," Knoblach said.
Knoblach said House GOP leaders want to move quickly to pass the one budget bill and ensure a speedy end to the session. No matter what they do, it appears there will be some disgruntled legislators in both parties.
- Morning Edition, 04/26/2006, 7:55 a.m.