DFL, Pawlenty at standstill as time runs outby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — On the last day of the legislative session, it doesn't appear DFL legislative leaders and Gov. Pawlenty are going to reach agreement on a two year budget.
The Minnesota House was unusually silent Sunday as lawmakers debated a motion to override Gov. Pawlenty's veto of General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC), a program that serves low income people. Pawlenty's veto would eliminate funding for the program in July of 2010.
Rep. Lynn Carlson, DFL-Crystal, was one of several Democrats who urged the body to vote to override the veto. Carlson fought back tears during his plea.
"I care about people, and I know what needs to be done, and I ask you members to rise above your political party," Carlson said. "Rise above politics and do here this afternoon the right thing."
Supporting lawmakers cited compassion as the reason to override the veto to protect as many as 35,000 people who could lose their health care coverage next year. They also said hospitals that treat those patients will face financial difficulties, and possible closure, if the veto is sustained.
Rep. Larry Hosch, DFL-St. Joseph, said cutting the program will be devastating to those who rely on it.
"Seventy percent of them have a mental health condition or a chemical dependency," Hosch said. "Forty percent of them have a chronic health condition that's not going away when they lose their health care. You know what, members? We are one day, one mistake and one medical condition away from being in the same spot."
Hosch was one of several Democrats who pointed to people sitting in the House gallery who are enrolled in the program, describing them as the face of Pawlenty's veto.
But Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake told members of the audience that the Democratic controlled Legislature, not the governor, was responsible for putting them in the position of losing their health insurance.
"I hope you realize that we were passing bills off of this House floor -- when we have a $6.4 billion budget deficit -- to address invasive earthworms over you," Hamilton said. "We're passing bills to bail out the Xcel Energy center, the debt that they have, over your needs."
Hamilton is one of the six Republicans who broke ranks last year to override Pawlenty's veto of a transportation bill that increased taxes for roads and bridges.
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, also voted to override the transportation veto. But this time, both he and Hamilton stuck with their Republican colleagues and voted against the DFL motion to override the health care veto. Abeler said overriding the veto would mean the governor would be forced to cut other important programs.
"If we vote to uphold this veto today, I will tell you somebody else will be cut," Abeler said. "Because there's no plan to backfill $381 million. So we'll rescue these great people who need the help, they need the help. But which disabled group is going to be taking the hit? Which hospital, not on this list for this amount of money, will be unallotted?"
Every Republican voted against the motion to override Pawlenty's veto leaving DFLers three votes short. Republicans scolded Democrats for attempting the override vote and urged them to work to reach a budget deal with the governor.
Instead, Democrats moved forward with an attempt to override another veto -- this one of a bill that increases taxes by $1 billion.
That tax bill would create a new income tax bracket for the wealthiest Minnesotans, increase alcohol taxes and create a surcharge on lenders who charge high interest rates. DFLers said the extra money would go to schools and health care programs. It was also an apparent attempt to paint Republicans as willing to protect the wealthiest Minnesotans at the expense of the poor.
But Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said the tax bill would only chase the wealthy from Minnesota.
"Those people are making decisions, they're leaving our state," Gottwalt said. "They're going to Florida with their wealth. They're going to Arizona with their wealth. There's not a hundred-foot fence around Minnesota. They can go to a lot of other places that don't tax them like that. They can take their wealth with them and they are."
Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, doubted Gottwalt's assessment. She said a couple earning $500,000 a year is unlikely to leave the state because of a $2500 tax increase.
"If you're making half a million dollars a year as a couple, I know a lot of those people and I guarantee you that they're not going to leave the state for $2,513," Liebling said. "Members, you can't even get the moving van for that price."
DFLers fell five votes short of the ninety votes needed to override that veto. Democrats Gene Pelowski and Jeanne Poppe joined every Republican to vote against the override.
After five hours of debate on the second to last day of the session, Pawlenty and legislative leaders are still no closer to a budget agreement. In fact, the two sides didn't even engage in budget talks on Sunday. Instead, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, and Pawlenty's spokesman, Brian McClung, traded barbs on the social network Twitter, arguing who was supposed to take the next step on budget talks.
Democrats said any budget agreement has to include $1 billion in tax, fee or surcharge increases. Pawlenty has proposed to cut $1 billion more in state spending. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisolm said it's unlikely that Democrats will agree to any additional cuts. He said they'd be willing to try another override attempt if three Republicans break ranks.
"For those who think there's a magic bullet or a third option, it's not there," Sertich said. "It's really down to [this]: we made all of the cuts we can, we have a balanced budget before us and if we don't get the votes to override the governor's vetoes, the governor is going to unallot and that's bad for Minnesota."
Even though Sertich said he feared what Pawlenty would do if he had to cut spending on his own, Sertich didn't seem willing to make another budget offer. McClung also said the governor was unwilling to budge on his latest offer, and is willing to move forward with his plans to cut the budget on his own. Pawlenty announced last week that he won't call lawmakers back for a special session.
"We still think it would be best if we could work out a deal," McClung said. "But there is a limited amount of time and at this stage the Democrats seem more interested in having debates on the floor or hearings in the Legislative Commission rather than come to a compromise."
Pawlenty has suggested that he would delay payments to schools, cut state aid to local government, higher education and health and human services programs if forced to cut spending on his own. House Republicans continue to push for a vote on the expansion of gambling to generate more revenue, but DFL legislative leaders say the votes aren't there in the House or Senate.
- Morning Edition, 05/18/2009, 7:20 a.m.