Deals done; spin begins
GOP praises Legislature'sno-new-taxes solution, but DFL says 'the sky's falling'
By Lenora Chu
ST. PAUL -- After nearly two weeks of a stop-and-go special session, the Legislature finally approved a handful of remaining budget bills Thursday night and wrapped up its work for the year.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is expected to sign the bills, called legislators back to work May 19 after they failed to complete work on six of the eight budget bills by the regular session deadline.
A health and human services bill that cut $1 billion in services for families, low-income Minnesotans and the disabled was first to cross the finish line Thursday. A $231 million bonding bill came next, followed by Senate approval of transportation and tax bills that the House had passed the previous day.
With both chambers finished by 11 p.m., lawmakers closed the doors on a contentious session that pitted Republicans against DFLers, metro legislators against rural legislators and, in some cases, lawmakers against their own caucus leaders as they struggled to fix a $4.23 billion deficit.
Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger immediately proclaimed the session a disaster and said Pawlenty's refusal to consider tax increases as a way to soften budget cuts would prove detrimental to Minnesotans' quality of life.
A trio of state representatives at the Rochester-Olmsted Government Center this morning called the session their toughest ever.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, encouraged other forms of government to follow the state's lead in trimming services. "I'm bold enough to guess that we're not the only bloated form of government," he said.
Sviggum was joined by state Reps. Randy Demmer, a Republican from Hayfield, and Bill Kuisle, a rural Rochester Republican.
Legislators say they heard "loud, often and early" that southeastern Minnesota, and the city of Rochester specifically, would have a hard time dealing with proposed state funding cuts.
A plan proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty would have shaved $7 million to $9.8 million in local government aid from Rochester in 2004.
In the plan passed by the legislators, Rochester will lose $3.3 million in state aid next year, according to Sviggum.
"I think people will say you did a pretty good job. We didn't think you could do it," Kuisle said. "There will be some pain, but I think we did a good job."
"There's not a politician alive that wants to cut from programs, but we have to do a job," Sviggum said.
Staff writer Lanier Frush Holt contributed to this story.