Gov. Tim Pawlenty vetoed an emotionally charged proposal late Friday to allow terminally ill patients to use marijuana for medical purposes, but signed into law a plan to disburse hundreds of millions of dollars from the Legacy Amendment passed by Minnesotans last year.
Four days after the Legislature ended with a stormy adjournment, the governor issued five vetoes Friday night on issues from election law to mortgage-foreclosure proceedings.
He also signed a bill late Thursday that allows police to pull over drivers solely because they or their passengers are not wearing seat belts. Currently, officers must spot another traffic offense before they can stop a vehicle and ticket someone for not being strapped in. The new law is effective June 9, and carries a $25 fine.
Pawlenty, who in 2008 set an apparent single-year record for most vetoes by a Minnesota governor, indicated in a letter that he was torn by the medical marijuana legislation. He said that while he was "sympathetic to those dealing with end-of-life illnesses," he felt marijuana poses "serious public safety and health risks." Legalizing marijuana, even under limited conditions, "could serve to compound these problems," he wrote.
Although he had also expressed some concerns with how the Legislature wanted to allocate Legacy Amendment money, Pawlenty signed the legislation Friday with just one, $200,000 line-item veto. That money was for a board that was created a year ago and that supporters said needed one-time-only money, Pawlenty said.
After gaining nearly 56 percent backing in November, the Legacy Amendment showed that Minnesotans were willing to vote for higher taxes in some instances even as the state and national economies were headed downward. Once the issue reached the Legislature, the focus was on who would get the money as scores of groups jockeyed to be heard.
The amendment increases the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent for 25 years, with money going for the outdoors, water resources, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage. Estimates by the Department of Revenue showed that, in the first year, the water resources and outdoors categories each stood to get $77.2 million, and that $46.2 million would be available to arts and cultural heritage projects.
In the proposal that passed the Legislature on Monday, a variety of projects were selected for Legacy funding, among them: $36 million to buy a permanent conservation easement on nearly 190,000 acres of forest land in northern Minnesota; a $450,000 project to improve the water quality of Lake Rebecca in Hennepin County; $51 million for the state pollution control agency for clean water initiatives, and $1 million to the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Golden Valley.
Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who played a lead role in shaping the legislation, said that Pawlenty could have line-item vetoed more proposals within the Legacy legislation had he philosophically disagreed with them. But doing so, she added, would simply mean more money would be available from the Legacy funds in future years, and would not help the governor solve the state's vexing budget deficit.
In other actions, Pawlenty vetoed an elections bill in part because he said he disagreed with a proposal to move the state's primary from September to August.
In signing the seat belt legislation, the governor also OK'd a new provision that allows motorists to drive 10 miles over posted speed limits of 55 miles per hour or above when passing on two-lane highways.
Many had expected a veto on the medical marijuana bill, which would have allowed terminally ill patients to use marijuana to ease their pain.
One of the important players in the debate was Chris DeLaForest, a former state legislator who was an influential lobbyist this year for the proposal. On Friday DeLaForest joined the Pawlenty administration when he was named as the new director of legislative and cabinet affairs. DeLaForest said his selection, on a day when he was waiting to hear whether the governor would sign the bill, did not place him in an uncomfortable situation.
"I don't think it's awkward in the least. Governor Pawlenty and I may be of just different viewpoints," said DeLaForest. Next year, he said, "my agenda will be the governor's agenda" should Pawlenty medical marijuana legislation again be pushed at the Legislature.
Veto pen is active
Pawlenty continued to show he is not shy about using his veto power. By mid-afternoon Friday, he had vetoed 72 complete bills since taking office in 2003. Only former Gov. Arne Carlson, who vetoed 127 bills during his two terms as governor, had vetoed more bills since 1939.
For the second day, DFL leaders pointedly said Pawlenty was motivated in his budget-cutting maneuvering by presidential ambitions and was trying to craft a national image as a tough, conservative Republican who was unafraid to say no to Democratic spending programs.
"I think, at this point, the main job he's interested in creating is one for himself in Washington," said Sen. Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, an assistant Senate majority leader. "[But] the things that work for a [presidential] primary in Iowa or in other parts of the country are not what's good for our state."
'Race to the bottom'
A war of words also continued between Pawlenty and local government officials, who are trying to minimize cuts in state aid to local governments as the governor prepares to balance the budget through an infrequently used unallotment process.
A day after Pawlenty suggested that cities use so-called "rainy day" reserves and freeze salaries before complaining about cuts, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said Friday that the governor's budget approach represented a "race to the bottom" that showed no long-range vision.
Dan Dorman, a former Republican legislator from Albert Lea, urged the governor to meet again with DFL leaders to try to reach a compromise on budget balancing and then call a one-day special session to pass whatever resulted. The League of Minnesota Cities' executive director said that his organization was "disappointed that Governor Pawlenty chooses to dismiss the concerns of city officials as nothing more than 'whining.'"