Special session is over

Rep. Paul Thissen
DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis addresses the members of the Minnesota House during a special session at the Capitol in St. Paul on July 19, 2011.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

The state budget and the end of the 20 day state government shutdown are now in DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's hands.

After working through the night and early into the morning, the Minnesota House and Senate passed twelve budget and spending bills.

The marathon special session started at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and the House and Senate took nearly 13 hours to pass twelve bills — 57 days after they ended the regular session on May 23.

The total time it took to pass the budget was six and a half months from the start of session, the longest government shutdown in the state's history and a budget deal that no one is embracing.

Republicans said the budget plan isn't perfect, but Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said it is the best way to slow the rate of growth in government spending.

"Minnesotans have more government than they can afford. The irresponsible thing would just to continue unsustainable spending and that has been the plan around here for the last forty years," said Ortman.

The budget plan erases a $5 billion projected two-year budget deficit through a mix of spending cuts, an expanded payment delay to K-12 schools and borrowing against tobacco payments.

The proposal is a compromise between GOP legislative leaders and Dayton after months of wrangling over the best way to balance the budget.

Dayton wanted to increase income taxes on Minnesota's top earners. Republicans said the deficit could be erased through spending cuts alone. Even though Dayton negotiated the deal, his DFL colleagues in the Legislature criticized it.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the governor accepted the GOP plan despite its reliance on one-time money and accounting tricks.

"Governor Dayton reluctantly took your plan. He took your plan on tobacco bonds. He took your plan on borrowing from our kids," Bakk said. "You didn't have to tax those millionaires. You win and Minnesotans lose."

Not a single Democrat voted for the tax bill, the K-12 bill or the Health and Human Services budget, which comprise the majority of two-year general fund state spending.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, criticized Democrats for failing to support a budget that ends the shutdown.

"Every red vote is a vote to continue the shutdown. We need to get Minnesota back to work. We need to stop pointing fingers," Dean said.

Democrats and Republicans disagreed over the importance of the K-12 finance bill. Republican House K-12 Finance Committee Chair Pat Garofalo of Farmington called it a major achievement, noting that it includes teacher and principal evaluation, scholarships for students who graduate early and early childhood education.

"Voting for this bill — the winners are the children of the state of Minnesota. The losers are the defenders of the status quo who defend the establishment," Garofalo said.

Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville, focused on the $2.1 billion payment delay to school districts. She and other Democrats accused the Republicans of borrowing money from the state's schoolchildren to fill the budget gap.

"This bill is actually a house of cards that steals money from schoolchildren. Forty percent of their education money is taken from them," Greiling said.

The House passed the K-12 bill only an hour after details of it were released to the public. The Senate took up the State Government Finance bill only 40 minutes after it was released.

Several lawmakers, lobbyists and good government groups criticized the process. Dayton and his staff negotiated the budget in private with GOP legislative leaders in a Capitol that was closed to the public until Tuesday morning.

Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said he was disgusted with the secrecy and the late-night rush to finish.

"We all want this shutdown to end as quickly as possible but this process, quite frankly, sickens me. And when we're done, at the end of the night, I'm going to go home and take a long, long shower to wipe the stain of this legislative session off of me," Paymar said.

GOP legislative leaders and the governor defended the process, saying it was important to pass the bills quickly and get the state running again.

But even to the end, the two sides disagreed. Republicans say they stuck to their pledge to spend only $34 billion over the next two years. The Dayton administration says the tally is $35.7 billion. The difference depends on how you account for the shifts and borrowing.

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