It would be an understatement to say that Gov. Pawlenty and Democrats in the Legislature aren't on the same page at this point in the session. Pawlenty has vetoed his fourth budget bill in less than a week and the Legislature seems intent on challenging him again and again.
On Tuesday, the governor vetoed a nearly $10 billion health and human services budget bill because he said it spends too much money.
"I know the Star Trek convention was here last week, but they really moved out into a new fiscal galaxy on that one," he quipped.
Pawlenty has signed two budget bills to date, including a spending bill for the environment that included several line-item vetoes.
Pawlenty also threatened to veto a bill that funds higher education because he says it spends too much money, lacks reform and is uninspiring. The governor also complained that there has not been an overall budget agreement so it makes it difficult to set priorities for all of the bills.
Republicans in both the House and Senate have adopted Pawlenty's talking points. Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, says he's worried that DFLers are putting together a piecemeal budget plan in the hopes of forcing Republicans to support an income tax increase to pay for additional education spending.
"With all due respect, how do you know if we spend too much or spend too little when we don't know how much is in the checkbook?" he said.
While the governor and Republicans are frustrated with the piece-by-piece budget approach, DFL legislative leaders say they're disappointed the governor isn't providing them with any clear direction.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said the governor has been unwilling to openly discuss his problems with the health and human services budget bill.
"We are trying to negotiate with the governor. We hear him just saying 'no' back to us. We think it's important to have a public dialogue with the governor about where he thinks we should reduce the spending in our bill," she told a news conference.
Legislative leaders are less inclined to negotiate with the governor over a bill that funds transportation.
The two chairs of the transportation conference committee say they will announce a deal on their bill on Wednesday.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, wouldn't reveal the specifics, but says the gas tax increase would be closer to a nickel a gallon than a dime. Murphy says they may also phase it in over a period of time to reduce any sticker shock felt at the pump.
"If we do a penny a month from August until the end of the year -- there's five cents. If you're doing it a penny at a time, a month here a month there, whatever, it gets absorbed into that fluctuation that I talked about earlier. You're not going to see it," Murphy said.
The House and Senate have already passed a dime a gallon gas tax increase to fund transportation projects. The governor has repeatedly said that he will veto any gas tax increase. Murphy and Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, say they're putting the package together with the hopes of getting the two thirds vote needed to override a potential veto. Lieder says the proposal is smaller than they hoped but the money is needed.
"We made quite a concession from where we started. That's what we anticipate we're going to have in that bill," Lieder said.
Gov. Pawlenty has put forward a 10 year, $1.7 billion transportation plan that uses borrowing to pay for road projects. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who also serves as transportation commissioner, told the transportation conference committee that the governor won't move on a gas tax unless voters decide if it should go up.
"He said before that if it's put on referendum and the citizens decide they want, at $3 a gallon gas, that they want that kind of gas tax increase, they can vote for that," Molnau said.
The House and Senate could vote on the transportation bill as early as Saturday. Meanwhile, the K-12 conference committee, in charge of delivering the biggest piece of the budget puzzle, has no committee meetings scheduled at this time.