In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Bitterness marks end of legislative session
Larger view
"If we're going to try to run the place around here, they're going to have to learn to take the tough votes," Senate Minority Leader Dick Day said of Republicans who suggest they might not vote for a budget bill. (MPR Photo/Tom Scheck)
Minnesota lawmakers ended the 2003 session at midnight Monday, after passing just a small portion of the state budget. The House and Senate sent two budget bills to the governor, repealed the state's Profile of Learning graduation standards and passed a 2 a.m. bar closing bill. But the final hours of the session were marked by a bitter fight on the Senate floor which prevented a Prairie Island bill from a vote.

St. Paul, Minn. — Legislative leaders began the last day of the regular session with hopes of passing at least half of the eight budget bills. They only got through two. First, the House narrowly passed a nearly $2.6 billion higher education funding bill. It would cut funding for the University of Minnesota $196 million from current spending levels, and make a similar cut to the MnSCU system.

Rep Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who served on the conference committee, but voted against the bill, says it's the worst higher education bill he's seen in his 17 years in the House, and could force MnSCU to close some campuses.

Larger view
Image A Republican holdout

"You can't go four consecutive finance bills with double-digit tuition increases and keep access; it is horrific," he said.

The House voted 69-to-62 for the bill. Nine Republicans representing college towns cast no votes. Hours later, the House passed a $640 million bill funding environmental programs, agriculture and economic development. This time the vote was 73-to-61. The bill cuts ethanol subsidies by a third, and increases fees for state park permits and some hunting licenses. It includes a compromise on the use of all-terrain vehicles that would ultimately restrict ATVs to designated trails in state forests.

A couple of hours later, with the clock ticking toward midnight, the Senate took up the environment and ag bill. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, says the bill illustrates the problem with Republicans' no-tax-increase budget. He says cuts to the state Arts Board, the Science Museum and Historical Society will gradually harm Minnesota's quality of life.

"What you won't be able to do is listen to the Minnesota Orchestra in Moorhead or Bemidji or International Falls or Worthington. You won't be able to see children participate to the extent that they do at the Science Museum. Those are the kinds of quality of life issues that will take place by increment in this state," he said.

Republicans defended the bill, saying they did the best that they could in tough budget times. They put up most of the votes to pass the bill 34-to-33, with Democrats putting up the minimum three votes for passage that were part of the budget deal.

Larger view
Image 'Working on the fringes'

Then with just an hour left until the midnight deadline, the traditionally-cordial Senate erupted in an interparty squabble. One group of Democrats tried to bring up a nuclear waste storage bill, while DFL opponents of the bill used a series of parliamentary tactics to stall up until the midnight deadline.

The bill to expand storage at the Prairie Island nuclear plant passed the House earlier in the day, but fell victim to a filibuster.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna says the final moments of the session show that the Senate DFL is "a ship without a rudder. The DFL doesn't want to do the job. You're seeing it. You're watching it. You're just sitting here, and you know, if people were watching this and there was like a million people watching it, we wouldn't have a problem; they'd probably be driving their pickup trucks up here by tomorrow morning and tell us to get our work done."

DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter says his caucus is prepared to finish budget work in special session. He says the emotional floor fight was nothing more than the conclusion of a contentious budget session.

Larger view
Image Gov. Tim Pawlenty

"We work hard under difficult conditions to try and come up with a solution to problems -- severe problems facing this state -- and we have different points of view. So there's a lot of stress that's built up," he said.

Before the session adjourned, the Senate passed the higher education bill 36-to-31. The House passed a bill funding state agencies, but the Senate didn't have enough time to take it up.

Lawmakers head into a special session on Tuesday. Conference committee members are negotiating their differences on several budget bills but legislative leaders say time may be running out. They say they'll intervene by the end of the day if the two sides can't compromise on the remaining bills.

Time is one factor that the remaining budget bills haven't passed both the House and Senate before the constitutional deadline. Monday night's midnight deadline forced lawmakers to shut down before they could vote on the judiciary bill. Differences of opinion is another reason. Legislative leaders have agreed on spending targets for the bills.

Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, says he'll still pursue a tax increase. The chair of the tax committee says he wants a statewide property tax on businesses even though Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger agreed taxes are off the table.

"Senator Hottinger is a fine legislator but he can't speak for every Democrat. He doesn't speak for me. I am going to pursuing full funding of education. I may not be successful, but I'm going to pursue it until I believe I can't be successful. I still think there's still an opportunity to be successful," he said.

Larger view
Image Wants Republicans to stick together

Lawmakers aren't making much headway in the Health and Human Services conference committee either. They're disagreeing on how to split up money for things like childcare subsidies, health insurance programs and care for the elderly.

Rep. Fran Bradley, R-Rochester, says the differences is forcing him to ask legislative leaders to take over negotiations on the bill.

"I think we're going to have to have some involvement over the next few days to make sure the process continues. We've had some slow downs along the way that we can't afford the next few days," Bradley said.

Lawmakers need to resolve their differences on taxes, health and human services, transportation, E through 12 education, and bonding.

Sen. Hottinger says he'll start negotiating with Speaker Sviggum and the governor's office on Tuesday and he hopes to finish work by the end of the week.

"We need to get the job done. And certainly my conference committees, the Senate conference committees are doing a very good job, but sometimes there are complexities between the options we have in conference committee that requires leadership intervention. The chairs of each conference committee will be at any meeting where I'm trying to deal with their issues," Hottinger said.

Hottinger's disagreement with the budget bills is also presenting difficulties. Senate DFLers will only provide the necessary votes to pass the bills. They expect Senate Republicans to put up all of their votes for the budget.

Speaker Steve Sviggum says Senate DFLers are on most of the conference committees. He says that makes things difficult.

"You have people confereeing the bill who are not going to vote for the bill. It's kind of historic. It's kind of new ground we're breaking so it makes give and take very tough and you have people holding on to what they believe is there principals until the last possible moment," Sviggum said.

Senate Republican Brian LeClair says he's sticking to his principals. He says he won't vote for either the health and human services bill or the tax bill because they spend too much money.

Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, with the Independence Party, says she'll likely vote for some of the budget bills but is concerned that there isn't enough money dedicated to local government aide.

"There's a couple of things that are very important to me in a couple of them. I expect that I will vote for most of them but I don't know if I'll vote for all of them. Certainly if the tax bill doesn't improve I won't be voting for the tax bill and if Senator LeClair doesn't vote for it then they have a problem," she said.

Gov. Pawlenty is encouraging Senate Republicans to stick together. But he says lawmakers shouldn't look for any additional money for LGA or other programs.

"There is no more money so we have to live within the pot that exists and if they want to raid another pot and put some more in LGA. That's not what the agreement is," Pawlenty said.

Lawmakers will begin negotiating their differences when they come back in special session Tuesday morning at 11.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects