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Minnesota Government Update


May 14, 2010



Time Is Running Out
Lawmakers had a demanding week at the Capitol and have a challenging few days ahead as they work to fix a looming State financial crisis. The legislature must finish their work by 7:00 am on Monday morning or face the possibility of a special session. Pawlenty and the State Legislature have been confronted with the task of solving a budget probklem that could potentially be three times the size of the deficit when the legislative session began in February. The state's highest court ruled that Pawlenty had overstepped his bounds when he used his executive powers to unilaterally cut $2.9 billion from the state's budget following the 2009 legislative session.
 
Governor Pawlenty said that Minnesota has been confronted with "an imminent and severe cash flow crisis" and said the State needs to plan for the worst. Pawlenty has asked the Legislature to ratify his unallotments but DFLers have said they want to reach a compromise. The DFL presented their proposal to fix the budget to the Governor Monday morning but it was vetoed. The plan included spending cuts by ratifying nearly all of the Governor's unallotments from 2009 and increasing revenue with a fourth personal income tax tier. Both Pawlenty and the Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, acknowledged they would not be able to agree on tax increases to solve the financial budget predicament.
 
Spending cuts come mostly from delaying $1.8 billion in education aids to school districts and cutting $294 million in city and county aids and credits. House and Senate Republicans were clearly dissatisfied and remained adamant that Pawlenty would not sign a bill into law that raises Minnesotan's taxes.

New Taxes?
A conference committee for the Omnibus Tax bill chaired by Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and Rep. Ann Lenczewski (DFL-Bloomington) has also been meeting daily. The committee is having a difficult time coming to an agreement that Governor Pawlenty will also approve. Committee members are committed to working until they reach an agreement but any provisions raising revenue for the State will attract the Governor's scrutiny.

Health and Human Services Compromise Vetoed
An agreement on the Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill was reached early Wednesday morning after a very tough week of difficult debate. The HHS spending makes up a very considerable portion of the State's deficit and will be key in solving the issue.
 
Both chambers passed the new legislation on Wednesday and, as predicted, the bill was promptly vetoed by the Governor. Pawlenty sent a letter of explanation regarding the veto to the Speaker of the House and said he "wouldn't sign the legislation because the surcharges on hospitals, insurance companies, and group homes will increase health care costs at a time when we should be focused on lowering health care costs". The legislature has yet to act in response to the rejection although negotiations are continuing and a compromise with the Governor appears likely.

New Chief Justice
Pawlenty announced Thursday that he has chosen Lorie Skjerven Gildea to fill an opening as Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Gildea, will replace retiring Chief Justice Eric Magnuson after his term expires June 30. Magnuson announced his resignation earlier this year after serving less than four years on the Court. Gildea is elevated from Associate Justice to Chief Justice and University of Minnesota law professor David Stras was appointed to Gildea's seat as Associate Justice. In picking Stras, Pawlenty said he wanted "someone who will interpret the law as written and not impose the law they want." Pawlenty has appointed four of the seven justices on the Supreme Court.

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.
 
Almanac: At the Capitol is seen on all public television stations throughout Minnesota and in Fargo. Winthrop & Weinstine is the exclusive law-firm partner and a sponsor of the program.
 
For more information and to see previous broadcasts, check out the Almanac: At the Capitol Web site at http://tpt.org/aatc/.
 
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