Little agreement at Capitol as deadlines loomby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
The Minnesota House and Senate resumed work Tuesday after a Passover/Easter break. And deep disagreements remain over how to erase the state's $4.6 billion budget deficit. There are just five weeks remaining before the constitutional deadline for adjournment.
St. Paul, Minn. — House and Senate budget committees have a narrow window this week to roll out spending bills, hold hearings and take votes. Next week's timetable for tax bills is equally tight.
The clock keeps ticking toward a May 18 adjournment, and Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he's worried. The Republican governor said Democrats haven't left themselves a sufficient cushion.
"They've got a work schedule that will put omnibus bills on my desk with just a week or so to go before the session," he said. "If those bills end up getting vetoed that will give them very little time to reconstruct the bills in a compromise fashion and get bills that are signed. So, if they're going to test whether these bills are going to be vetoed and have the vetoes sustained, bring them up now. Get them here now."
Pawlenty told reporters he hopes to avoid a potential government shutdown, which would be the consequence of a budget stalemate that lingers past June 30. He said everyone's focus should be on a timely and constructive finish to the session. Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis doesn't share the governor's concern. Pogemiller said there's still a lot of time left.
"We in the Senate, before we took the break for Easter and Passover, passed a major education bill," he said. "We're on target this week to get the other appropriation bills moving out of the House and Senate committees. We've got a schedule set down where we're going to have all the major bills to the governor in plenty of time for him to consider them. So, I think we're ahead of schedule actually."
But big hurdles still stand in the way of a budget agreement. Senate Democrats say they need $2 billion in new revenue to balance the books, while House Democrats are seeking $1.5 billion. Pawlenty is promising to veto any tax increases. And House Republicans leaders say they'll stand united to sustain those vetoes.
House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL- Minneapolis, said the House tax bill will be fair and progressive. And she predicted the chances of a veto override this session are slim. Kelliher also suggested the governor could take greater interest in negotiating.
"I just think the governor needs to be more willing to sit down and really come up with a strategy here," she said. "He's very good at saying no. He is less willing to be open to real solutions."
Kelliher said she's frustrated by the lack of meetings this session between the governor and DFL leaders. The last one was over two weeks ago.
Pawlenty said he hasn't met with Kelliher or Pogemiller because there were no budget bills to discuss.
"We can't resolve differences with a group that hasn't presented their plan," he said. "They haven't even decided which taxes they're going to propose to increase. So, we need to see what their proposal is before we can try to reconcile the differences. They haven't even agreed between the House and the Senate what they're going to do yet."
Another potential showdown is looming over a borrowing plan for public works projects. Pawlenty said he'll support a reasonable and affordable bonding bill, and neither the House or Senate versions appear to meet his requirements. Democrats say a bonding bill will create needed jobs, and Pogemiller said he thinks the governor will eventually agree.
"On the one hand, the governor spends his time criticizing bonding and criticizing federal spending and criticizing federal deficits," he said. "But he's always at the ribbon cutting when you want to spend money on a new highway or on a new building. And so, I think people need to take that a bit with a grain of salt."
A conference committee is now working to resolve the bonding bill. The House bill would ring up $200 million on the state credit card, compared to $329 million with the Senate bill.
- All Things Considered, 04/14/2009, 5:50 p.m.