The Legislature does most of its heavy budget work in odd-numbered years. But this year, lawmakers found themselves with a projected $88 million budget surplus and lots of ideas for spending it.
Senators put together a supplemental budget plan that totaled $204 million, with the biggest chunks going to public schools, water clean-up programs and the security hospitals that house sex offenders and the mentally ill.
Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, is the bill's chief sponsor. He said the measure addresses more than the wants of legislative leaders.
"What the bill does, in several major areas attempts to meet needs expressed not simply by division chairs but by the people of Minnesota, particularly as it relates to education, child care and the environment," Cohen said.
Not only don't you have any leadership, not only don't you have any direction, now you don't have any courage.Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield
During the long debate, DFL senators defeated several Republican efforts to amend the bill. They voted down one of Gov. Pawlenty's proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration. He wants to establish a special unit of state agents to help enforce federal immigration laws.
Sen. Betsy Wergin, R-Princeton, tried unsuccessfully to add the governor's plan to the bill. She said illegal immigration is costing the state millions of dollars each year.
"And part of that is the crime that's from illegal immigration," Wergin said. "Illegal immigration is a crime in and of itself, may I remind you. And this deals with illegal immigrants that are involved in felony activities."
An expected vote to toughen state abortion laws never materialized. Last week, the Republican-controlled Minnesota House added a ban on publicly funded abortions to its version of the spending bill. Another House amendment requires the collection of data on minors who receive abortions without parental approval.
In the Senate, Republicans were poised to offer the same amendments. But then Sen. Cohen made an unexpected move.
"The best way to handle this is to do everything on the human service side in one bill," Cohen said. "So, I'm asking this motion to delete the human service sections of this bill."
Cohen's move drew an angry response from several Republicans. Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield, was incensed.
"Now we're here with supposedly a finance bill, and you know there's a pro-life amendment coming, and so you strip out the part that we'd amend it to," Neuville said. "Not only don't you have any leadership, not only don't you have any direction, now you don't have any courage."
Despite the partisan sniping, senators from both parties voted overwhelmingly for the smaller spending bill. DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson called it a good day's work to approve 80 percent of the budget.
"And now the health initiative, we will take it up," Johnson said. "I expect we will address the abortion issue. We're not dodging it. I have no intention of dodging it."
Johnson says a vote on a separate human services bill could come later this week. He says he's confident Senate and House negotiators will be able to work out the differences between the two supplemental spending bills.