March 19, 2010
Governor Pawlenty signed the $1 billion capital investment bill into law on March 14 after using line-item vetoes to cut nearly one-third of spending from the legislation. Cuts of $318 million bring the total spending down to $680 million. Lawmakers presented a bill totaling $999 million in general obligation bonding. This legislation passed despite a letter from the Governor in February noting that the State couldn’t afford to spend $1 billion, and that he wouldn’t sign a bill of that magnitude. Instead of cutting the bill to the governor’s proposed $725 million, lawmakers chose to insert Pawlenty’s priorities and decrease funding for their own priorities. Members of the Conference Committee believed this to be the only way the divisive bill could pass in both houses.
A letter to Governor Pawlenty from House Republicans said the bill was in need of “fiscal liposuction” and urged aggressive action. Written by Representative Zellers and signed by 44 of the 47 members of the House Republican Caucus, the letter asked the Governor to cut “not just a little bit, but several hundred million dollars” from the legislation. Representative Tom Emmer, a leading Republican candidate for governor, and Representative Mark Buesgens did not sign the letter but sent a separate letter asking the Governor to veto the bill in its entirety. Representative Morrie Lanning did not sign either letter.
A total of 20,000 jobs are estimated to be created as a result of construction projects in the bill. DFLers argued that passing the bill now would allow them to take advantage of lower construction costs and interest rates while boosting the state’s economy.
The Minnesota Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday morning in the case questioning Governor Pawlenty’s use of unallotments to balance the state’s budget. A ruling against the Governor has the potential to create a massive negative impact on the state budget. It could add as much as $2.7 billion to the state’s already hefty $1 billion deficit. Pawlenty’s legal team hoped to convince the court that his unallotment decisions were justified.
Ramsey County Judge Kathleen Gearin ruled in December that the Governor “crossed the line” in using his authority. Gearin’s decision says Pawlenty interfered with legislative powers when he used his authority to cut spending to state-funded programs last summer after the Legislature adjourned. Pawlenty appealed Gearin’s decision and said she “inserted herself in a political dispute.”
After weeks of negotiations, the Senate passed legislation to continue General Assistance Medical Care, a state-run health care plan for more than 30,000 of the state’s poorest residents. The revamped plan lowers spending. Some of the state’s largest hospitals will get fixed payments for prescriptions and coordinated health care for patients.
Keeping GAMC alive has been a divisive issue this legislative session after Governor Pawlenty cut its funding using executive unallotment powers to balance the budget last summer. Most Republicans supported the compromise Thursday evening when the bill passed after a 50-17 vote. Opposition came from members in rural areas who argue hospitals in their home districts will have to pay millions more per year due to the new plan.
The race for governor is heating up as parties come closer to endorsing conventions. Competition for the GOP is between Representative Tom Emmer of Delano and Representative Marty Seifert of Marshall. Senate minority leader Dave Senjem announced this week that he is backing Seifert. Senjem and Seifert worked closely as minority leaders for many years.
Democrats remain much further from picking a candidate. A recent poll showed House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton, and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak as leaders amongst many other DFL hopefuls. The three DFL candidates still trail Seifert and Emmer despite having far more name recognition among voters. A primary for the DFL candidate is likely with Matt Entenza, Mark Dayton, and Susan Gaertner all indicating they will run against the DFL-endorsed candidate.
Rob Hahn and Tom Horner are vying for the Independence Party’s endorsement. The pair have similar policy ideas and both are stressing electability in their campaigns for governor. The party’s endorsing convention is scheduled for May 8, although Hahn has said he will run in the primary regardless of the outcome.
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