Lawmakers need Sunday session to finish work

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Congratulations from the speaker
House Speaker Steve Sviggum congratulates University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks, after the House approved a bill to build a new football stadiums for the U of M.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Legislative leaders missed their self-imposed deadline of finishing their work before church. On Saturday lawmakers worked in fits and starts, passing some bills and then recessing for negotiations. But at 2 o'clock this morning, DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum left the governor's office to say they didn't have enough time to finish all of their work

Johnson says they'll meet Sunday evening to take up the session's major spending bill. It includes more money to lock up sex offenders, funding to clean up lakes and streams and money to prepare for a possible bird flu outbreak.

Needs more time
Sen. Majority Leader Dean Johnson leaves the governor's office early Sunday morning, saying the Senate needed another day to complete its work for the session.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

"With some hesitancy in the part of the speaker and myself, the Legislature will convene tomorrow night at 7 p.m. with the purposes of taking up one bill and one bill only and that's the supplemental budget bill. No more, no less," Johnson said."

Early Saturday lawmakers appeared to be moving in an orderly process to getting their work done. They passed a financing package for an on-campus football stadium for the University of Minnesota and a bill the prevents identity theft for consumers.

But a hiccup occurred when several Northeastern lawmakers were upset that funding for an events center in Duluth wasn't included in the bonding bill. Because of the omission, some threatened to vote against a financing plan for a Twins ballpark, putting that proposal in jeopardy. In the end, the Senate passed the Twins bill on a 34-to-32 vote. It now heads to Gov. Pawlenty, who says he'll sign it.

The $522 million downtown Minneapolis ballpark relies on a .15-percent sales tax to pay for the bulk of the project. It does not include a voter referendum. The deal ends a decade long quest by the Twins to get a new ballpark.

Entenza's check
Shortly before the House began its final push toward passage, Rep. Matt Entenza criticized the Pawlenty administration for what he says are the effects of Pawlenty's budget on property taxes.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

Jerry Bell, president of Twins Sports Inc., was all smiles after the vote.

"It's like winning the World Series. You're just after it all of the time and all of the time and suddenly it's there and you can't believe it. You don't know what to say.. This is kind of the same feeling," Bell said.

Lawmakers also passed $1 billion worth of construction projects throughout Minnesota. The capital improvements bonding bill includes projects for the University of Minnesota, funding for Northstar Commuter Rail and a prison expansion in Faribault.

The House and Senate also passed a tax bill that gives relief to married couples and some middle-income taxpayers. But there is no property tax relief in the bill even though legislative leaders said it was a priority this session.

Tax experts in the House and Senate said there wasn't enough money to provide any significant property tax cuts. DFL House Minority Leader Matt Entenza said Republican leaders failed to deliver.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum
Rep. Steve Sviggum, speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, meets with reporters shortly before the start of a maraton session as the Legislature finishes its work. "Democrats don't want to solve property tax issues - they want to campaign on property tax issues," he said.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

"The message out of this session is clear: While stadiums dominate, average Minnesotans will get no property tax relief, education will continue to cut funding and our transportation system will lag," Entenza said.

Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum said his caucus and Gov. Pawlenty proposed some property tax relief, but Senate DFLers didn't accept it. He said the DFL election year strategy is to blame Republicans for rising property taxes.

"The Democratic words about property tax relief, property tax reform, are only campaign fodder," he said.

Supporters of an effort to let voters decide if the state should dedicate a portion of the state's sales tax to conservation programs, the arts and public broadcasting say the issue is dead for the year. House and Senate negotiators couldn't agree on whether to dedicate a portion of the existing sales tax or use a tax increase to pay for the idea.

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