Pawlenty vetoes health care and education bills

The governor liked some elements of the two proposals, but found them too costly.

Major bills on health care and education policy drew vetoes Tuesday from Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who hammered the former for excessive public subsidies and the latter for including new unfunded mandates.

The health care bill -- which was passed late Monday by a veto-proof margin in the Senate but more narrowly in the House -- emerged after months of study and debate with the aim of taking a step toward reform of what many consider a broken and costly system.

Instead, Pawlenty wrote in his veto message, the bill merely expands access to health care without cutting costs or improving quality.

He said much of the bill simply makes more people eligible for MinnesotaCare, the state's subsidized health insurance program for the working poor.

"The state cannot afford to further expand subsidized health programs without certainty of reform that will control costs," Pawlenty wrote.

One of the bill's authors, Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, called the bill reasonable and said he was disappointed by the veto. Thissen said sponsors had reshaped the bill to meet some of Pawlenty's concerns, but "he keeps moving the goalposts on us."

Pawlenty noted that the bill would subsidize households with incomes of up to 400 percent of federal poverty guidelines, making eligible a family of four with an income of $84,800. "This is simply too high," he wrote.

Thissen, however, said that such a family barely has anything left over after paying for health care and other typical monthly expenses.

The governor said there were parts of the bill that he liked, including promotion of electronic health records, development of medical homes and payment reform for doctors. "I hope we can move forward on these areas of common agreement," he wrote.

Education policy bill

Pawlenty also found things to like in the education policy bill that passed last week. Requiring students to stay in school until they're 18 years old rather than 16 "is a good idea," he wrote, even though he said the bill doesn't address the potential impact of that requirement on school resources and discipline.

Nevertheless, Pawlenty chose to veto the bill because he said it was "a step backward for education accountability and high expectations."

The bill measures student performance against statewide averages when world-class achievement levels should be used, he said. He also said it makes new demands on school districts, such as new task forces and reporting requirements, without giving them the money to fulfill them.

State education officials said last week that they had problems with the bill's lower test score standards.

Alice Seagren, the state education commissioner, said the proposal measured student test score improvement based on average test scores posted statewide during the 2006-07 school year. The U.S. Department of Education measures student improvement based on higher test scores, she said.

"If we expect students to be college-ready, we can't set lower standards," Seagren said.

In addition, the bill would require students to take a half-credit of physical education to graduate from high school and add more criteria to school report cards.

Staff writer Norman Draper contributed to this story.

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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