Pawlenty's LRT veto -- good negotiating strategy?by Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
With about five weeks to go until the Legislature must adjourn, it looks like lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are still far apart on reaching agreements on major issues. The disagreements were highlighted earlier in the week when the governor vetoed funding for the Central Corridor light rail line from the bonding bill. But some say that veto may actually force Democrats to negotiate on the state budget, and that could help bring the session to a smooth end.
St. Paul, Minn. — The trick to being a good negotiator is to find out what your adversary really wants, and refuse to give that up until you get what you want.
Judging by the reaction from Democrats, Pawlenty may have found that when he vetoed the Central Corridor light rail line.
The transit line was the most expensive of the more than 50 projects the governor erased from the bonding bill. Pawlenty said earlier this week he'd be willing to reconsider the transit project, if lawmakers work with him on the budget.
"Before we sign up for the next phase of this big, massive transit project that is going to cost in total $1 billion-plus in operating costs, I want to make sure I've got a Legislature that is willing to stay focused, is fiscally disciplined, will set priorities and is willing to solve this budget crisis in a fiscally disciplined way," Pawlenty said.
The governor may also be holding out for two other projects -- funding for a nursing facility at the Minneapolis Veterans Home, and for a state park on Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota.
Add up the Central Corridor, the Vets home and the state park plan, and the total cost of this year's bonding bill would be close to the governor's limit of $825 million.
DFLers and Republicans in both the House and Senate said the governor's action surprised them, but they said it was good strategy.
Republican House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said DFL legislative leaders now have to negotiate with the governor.
"The Democrats are saying right now that he needs to come to us," Seifert said. "I hate to break the news to them, but that isn't going to happen. So they had better wake up and realize that if it's a project they want and is important, then they need to come to the table and acknowledge things like the budget being balanced and other needs for the governor, and work it out."
Seifert said DFLers should not discount the possibility of a special session if a budget deal is not reached before the Legislature's scheduled ending date.
He said he doesn't think the governor needs too many things in order to have a productive session, besides erasing the state's $935 million projected deficit.
But there are some budget-related items the governor is looking for.
DFL House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher said she's willing to work with the governor to balance the budget. But she said House Democrats have concerns about two key initiatives the governor wants to keep in the budget.
The first is Q-Comp, a performance based teacher pay system. The other is JOBZ, the governor's economic development plan for rural Minnesota.
Kelliher said she thinks the governor wants to preserve both of those programs. She said, however, the House has serious concerns regarding JOBZ after a recent report suggested the program isn't cost effective.
"We want to make sure the dollars are being spent well, so we have some concerns around JOBZ in terms of going forward," Kelliher said. "The legislative auditor said it's not the most effective use of the dollars, but I'm sure that's one of the places that there will be good discussion."
The governor has expressed serious concerns about the budget bills passed by the House and Senate. He said the bills raise taxes, spend too much money and don't control spending in health care programs.
The DFL-controlled Senate seems more willing to challenge the governor on the budget than the House, and unlike the House, the Senate isn't up for re-election this year.
Last year, the Legislature repeatedly sent the governor budget bills which the governor repeatedly vetoed. DFL legislative leaders said early this year they wouldn't use that strategy again this session.
But DFL Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller appeared more willing to challenge the governor during an interview this week.
"The Legislature will do everything we can to put a balanced budget on his desk," Pogemiller said. "Hopefully we won't have to do it two or three times, but we'll do whatever we can."
Another Senate DFLer said he's hoping they can agree with the governor on the budget. He said failing to balance the budget this year means the state will have even greater budget problems next year.
The Legislature has until May 19 to cut a deal on the budget.
- All Things Considered, 04/11/2008, 5:24 p.m.