This time, divided state government worked. The sweeping, session-concluding accord reached Sunday between GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the DFL-controlled 2008 Legislature will move this state in a positive direction, in ways big and small.
Its headlines: Health care changes that could shave 15 percent off costs by 2015. Health insurance for 12,000 now uninsured. A 30 percent trim in expected 2009 property tax increases, with 10,000 additional homeowners qualifying for refunds. Funding for Central Corridor light rail and a new state park. A balanced budget for now, and a downpayment on the deficit that's expected in coming years.
The comprehensive health care bill is the package's prize. Its DFL champions -- Sen. Linda Berglin and Rep. Tom Huntley -- masterfully guided their complex bill through a thicket of competing stakeholders. To his credit, after vetoing a larger expansion, Pawlenty agreed to making 7,000 more single adults eligible for subsidized health insurance through MinnesotaCare.
Add that bill, Central Corridor and a new park at Lake Vermilion to two other achievements earlier in the session -- a major transportation funding bill and authorization for a biosciences campus at the University of Minnesota -- and the long-term positive impact of this session compares favorably with any since 2001.
But in the nearer term, state leaders admit, problems remain. The use of $500 million in one-time money to balance the budget this year makes it almost certain that the 2009 Legislature will have a biennial gap of more than $1 billion to close. A state ceiling on local government levies will squeeze city and county services. While school and nursing home funding are in for small boosts, their outlook for 2009 remains troubled.
Those problems would loom larger, however, had negotiators not corrected the state's nearly $1 billion deficit in fiscal 2009. Their deal leaves $500 million in reserve, or $150 million more than would remain if Pawlenty had been forced to balance the budget by executive order.
While there's much to admire about Sunday's agreement, the process that produced it was not pretty. It was the result of two weeks of private talks between Pawlenty and a handful of legislative leaders. They were shielded from public scrutiny while hammering out the year's most important decisions.
They pushed their deadline to its breaking point, announcing agreement less than 10 hours before the session's constitutionally required midnight limit for passing bills. Our guess is that today, many legislators would be hard-pressed to describe in detail the bills they adopted Sunday night. Too much secrecy and a rush job at the end do no credit to an institution that, even with this year's solid finish, could use more respect.