May 20, 2009
Session Ends: DFL Legislature and Governor Left in Stalemate
The Minnesota Legislature adjourned its 2009 regular session on Monday night at midnight—avoiding what some had thought would become a Special Session, or even a government shut-down. The adjournment followed an eleventh-hour attempt to pass a $2.7 billion tax bill that would wipe out the state's deficit through a $1 billion tax increase and a one-time shift. With 30 minutes to go, House Tax Committee Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) introduced the hastily composed bill that contained a tax increase of more than $1 billion and $1.8 billion in shifts. The bill mirrors an earlier version vetoed by the Governor. It was intended to raise income taxes on the wealthy, liquor, and credit card companies.
The House floor discussion was heated and chaotic, but Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher was able to pass the bill out of her chamber with minutes to spare before the midnight deadline with an 82-47 vote. While this is 8 votes short of the margin needed for a veto override, the intended message by the DFL was to send a balanced budget to Pawlenty. Only minutes later, the Senate passed the bill on a 35-1 vote with most Republicans not voting. The scene on the Senate floor was chaotic. Republican senators tried to get formally recognized by Senate President James Metzen in attempts to get more details of the DFL's budget bill—Democrats refused to respond. Republican Senator Dick Day carried a roll of silver duct tape to Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller's desk, trying to show that the DFLers were trying to stitch together a last-second budget plan and muzzle debate.
DFL leaders said the blame for any unallotments would lie with Governor Pawlenty's refusal to sanction any new tax revenue even in the face of a $4.6 billion deficit and his insistence on one-time solutions. However, Pawlenty spokesperson Brian McClung stated that the DFLers failed to close the $4.6 billion budget gap, and Minnesotans would thank Governor Pawlenty for protecting them against tax hikes in such a dire economic climate. McClung stated that Minnesotans are "going to remember that the Democrats couldn't pass a balanced budget ... so they left it to the Governor to clean up their mess.”
Pawlenty Holds Day-After-Session Press Conference
The legislative session ended chaotically and bitterly—without a budget deal between the Governor and the DFL majority in the Minnesota legislature.
In a Tuesday press conference, Pawlenty noted that it was a constitutional requirement to balance the state’s budget—and the DFLers had failed in this attempt. "I'm not here to rehash the DFL's failures of this past session -- I think they speak for themselves. The job didn't get finished. I'm going to finish it." During the current economic meltdown, "government needs to do what everyone has to do," Pawlenty said, "tighten our belts and live on a little less money."
"We had a chance to bring back long-term stability to the budget the way Minnesotans wanted us to," said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller in a prepared statement. "We took an approach of shared sacrifice and used a mix of cuts and revenue and Minnesotans can clearly see the Legislature did its job. The Governor refused to work with us and instead of offering compromises he issued ultimatums."
DFL leadership left early Tuesday morning to go on their end-of-session fly-around Minnesota to explain their part in the last-minute negotiations. Pawlenty's staff said he "will be forgoing the traditional end-of-session fly-around to stay at the Capitol and work on the issues left unresolved by the DFL's failure to pass a balanced budget."
Earlier Monday, a last meeting between DFL leaders and Pawlenty yielded no agreement. Democrats said the GOP governor rejected every possible tax increase they proposed. They ruled out a $1 billion borrowing plan he proposed using tobacco appropriation bonds. The lack of resolution could lead to higher property taxes if cities and counties lose state aid, budget acrobatics for schools if state payments come later, and an uncertain future for those who use state programs for everything from hospital stays to dental coverage.
Primary Seatbelt Violation Passes both Houses; Awaits Governor’s Approval
After years of attempts, Minnesota lawmakers approved giving police more power to ticket unbuckled drivers. The House passed the Primary Seatbelt Law on the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session with a 73-60 vote. The Senate later approved the House bill with a strong 47 -19 vote. At a news conference Tuesday morning, the Governor voiced his support for the bill.
The bill gives police the ability to pull over and ticket motorists if they are not wearing a seatbelt regardless of age or position in the car. Currently, law enforcement must have another reason to pull a motorist over before issuing a seatbelt ticket. The violation carries a $25.00 fine, and the state will receive $3.4 million in federal funds for passing the bill
Medical Marijuana Bill passes House; Senate and Awaits Sure Veto
A bill that permits terminally ill patients to use Medicinal Marijuana passed the House and Senate on Monday night. By the time it left the House chamber, the bill was significantly narrowed from its original version that would have allowed any suffering patient, terminal or not, to use the drug for medical purposes.
The House passed the bill bipartisanly, 70-64, a victory for supporters who have long worked to get medical marijuana legalized in Minnesota, but one not nearly big enough to override a veto by the Governor, who said Tuesday that he will reject the bill.
The Senate, which previously had passed a broader version, took up the amended bill after the House vote and approved it, 38-28.
The issue of medical marijuana, which has been legalized by 13 states, prompted impassioned debate that pitted concern for the suffering against worries that legalizing the drug even for limited use would lead to increased drug addiction and crime.
For up-to-date information about the Minnesota Legislature, tune into Almanac: At the Capitol. This lively and informative program is aired Wednesdays during the legislative session on Twin Cities Public Television at 7:00 PM on Channel 17 and at 10:00 PM on Channel 2.
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