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House and Senate override governor's veto

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DLF leadership
DFL leaders Bernie Lieder, Crookston, Speaker Margaret Anderson Keilher, Minneapolis, and Tony Sertich, Chisholm, discuss the House's override of the Governor's veto of the transportation bill.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

There was suspense all weekend about whether there were 90 votes in the House to override the governor's veto, but it was clear, once Monday's session started, that there were enough.  

That's because many of the Republicans who voted for the transportation bill last week hinted they would support the override.  Republican Jim Abeler of Anoka said it was time to get something done on transportation.

"It's a grievous problem.  A bridge fell down and we're all moved to do the right thing, not out of emotion, but out of commitment to good work and principle," said Abeler. "It's a constitutional duty.  Education and transportation and public safety are public duties."

By fall, the gas tax will climb a nickel, to 25 cents per gallon. It will go up an additional 3-1/2 cents to pay off road bonds, though those increases would be spread out over the next five years and eventually roll back as debt is satisfied.

"I'm here to represent the little guy, the striver, the dreamer. I'm concerned about the effect of this $6 billion tax increase on the little guy."

There will also be a metrowide sales tax increase of a quarter percent, and people who buy new cars will pay higher license tab fees.

Republican Rep. John Berns of Wayzata said the tax increases will harm lower-income people.  

"I have to remember why I'm here and who I'm representing.  I'm here to represent the little guy, the striver, the dreamer.  And whether it's a red checkbook or a blue wallet, I'm concerned about the effect of this $6 billion tax increase on the little guy."

It appeared that Republicans in the House were resigned to losing the override, and started preparing for the November election.  

Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Delano, questioned some of the first-term Democrats on the floor about whether they campaigned for a tax increase last election. 

"You folks, again did not campaign a couple summers ago on the mantra that you were going to raise taxes.  That was Minnesotans' biggest fear about turning the reins of this government over to your party," said Emmer. "Same question to you, Rep. Madore.  Are you going to vote to raise the taxes the hard-working families of your district in this family?"

Yes I am and I'm going to tell you why," responded Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley.  "The bridge went down on Aug. 1, and a gentlemen from my district died.  He left four children and I went to his funeral. I stood there with his family and I looked at them in the face. And when you're asking me, 'Is his life worth a nickel a gallon?'  I'm telling you it is"

Rep. Jim Abeler
Rep. Jim Abeler, Anoka, speaks to his colleagues in the House to encourage them to vote for the override.
MPR Photo/Tom Scheck

Republican Tom Emmer said there was no relationship between the bridge collapse and the tax increases in the transportation bill.  

House Democrats did appear sensitive to the tax hikes in the bill.  DFL House Speaker Margaret Kelliher said the vote was a signal that gridlock gave way at the Capitol.  She said it was the first time the gas tax has been increased in 20 years.  

She said Minnesotans may be upset with the tax increase, but will be pleased with the results.

"Make no mistake about it.  We get it.  This is a tax increase, and we know that Minnesotans are sensitive to this," said Kelliher. "They are going to get good value out of this tax incrrease, however."

It's very rare for the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto.  This is only the 14th time that a veto has been overridden since 1939, and most of those came under third party Gov. Jesse Ventura.  

Gov. Pawlenty said he was disappointed with the vote.  He described the transportation bill as ridiculous in scope and magnitude.

"I felt very good about vetoing it. I think this is the wrong bill for the Legislature to pass. And it's the wrong direction for the Legislature to take in terms of tax increases," said Pawlenty.

There are already consequences for the six House Republicans who voted with all 85 Democrats to override the governor.  

Republican Rod Hamilton said he voluntarily resigned his position on the Agriculture Committee -- and it was accepted.  Bud Heidgerken said he was told that he would step down from his lead position on the K-12 committee.  

But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said the caucus has not decided whether to force members to step down. 

Some Republicans said they were concerned they could lose their party's endorsement, and possibly their election, because of the vote. 

Rep. Kathy Tingelstad, R-Andover, said it's possible that she could see a Republican challenger because they backed the transportation bill.  Rep. Ron Erhardt, R-Edina, already has one. 

Rep. Abeler said his endorsing convention is coming up in 12 days, but he was philosophical about it. 

"This actually is evidence of what kind of member I am, that I'm willing to vote for what I believe."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)