Veterans packed into the governor's reception room to watch Pawlenty sign the agriculture and veterans budget bill into law. Plenty of praise and hand shakes were shared among the governor, his staff and the DFLers who authored the bill.
The bill increases spending for renewable energy and agricultural programs and veterans services. It's the first budget bill to become law this session. That wasn't lost on Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, who seemed pleased that his bill is now out of the budget fray.
"I wanted to get this bill to the governor quickly because different things can change between now and the 21st of May," he said.
One thing that hasn't changed is the deep disagreement over some of the remaining budget bills. Pawlenty says he intends to sign two of the budget bills but will veto two others.
The governor says he will sign the public safety bill, now that lawmakers have removed a provision that makes it easier to sue insurance companies. Pawlenty also says he intends to sign the environment budget bill but may line-item veto a few unnamed programs.
But the governor has flat-out rejected the two other bills that are expected to land on his desk this weekend. He said he won't sign the state government budget bill because it cuts $5 million in funding for management positions in state agencies. He also says the economic development budget bill spends too much money.
Pawlenty repeated his opposition to tax increases and cautioned lawmakers to keep spending in check.
"We're very flexible as to how they want to spend the money that's available without raising taxes, but I don't think and believe very strongly that we should go beyond that," he said.
Despite Pawlenty's veto threats, DFLers in the Legislature seem intent on defying him on some issues. DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher says the House is committed to raising income taxes on Minnesota's top earners to pay for property tax relief.
The Senate also passed the economic development budget bill and the state government budget bill by significant margins despite the governor's warnings.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, the chief author of the economic development bill, says he's disappointed to learn of the governor's veto threat. He believes the bill addresses many of the the governor's concerns. Tomassoni suggested the governor is starting to come across as an obstructionist.
"Whenever there are threats to veto just about every bill that we want to pass, you have to wonder if that's not what is going on. I hope it's not, but it's starting to feel like it because I think we passed this bill in really good faith and in really good compromise and worked really hard to get a good bill out that was a good bill for the state of Minnesota."
But Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, says lawmakers need to do a better job of getting the governor's approval before they send the budget bills to him. Senjem says Pawlenty and DFL legislative leaders resolved their differences on a public safety budget bill after continued negotiations. He says he's disappointed Democrats aren't following a similar path on the other budget bills.
"We'll avoid the collision course and we'll avoid the veto and I think we'll do what people sent us up here this year to do. And that's to work out our differences and come together as a Legislature and work through our differences, get our work done and go home," he said.
Senjem and lawmakers may need to work overtime to ensure that happens. Lawmakers have 17 days remaining before the constitutional deadline to adjourn. They have yet to agree on the major spending bills including education and health and human services.