By Jennifer Brooks, Jim Ragsdale and Baird Helgeson
Exhausted Minnesota legislators poured out of the Capitol early Tuesday, with starkly different views on the successes and failures of the completed legislative session.
Democrats said the session is a bold step in a new direction that will restore fiscal order to the state budget and break the cycle of back-to-back deficits.
They also praised their job-creation efforts, like helping Mayo Clinic expand and the State Capitol renovation.
“I think it’s a great budget for Minnesota,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis. “We’re doing what we told Minnesota voters that we would do last November and I’m really pleased with that.”
It may have been a session where the Legislature made history by legalizing gay marriage, but Thissen insisted that it was the DFL’s education policies that people would remember.
“We kind of turned the corner from some of the ideological debates to being a Legislature and a governor that can work together to move the state forward,” Thissen said.
Republicans said the $2.1 billion in tax increases will be a drag on the economy.
“First of all, we don’t need any more money, and this has been a session of over-taxing, over-spending and over-reaching by the one-party government of the DFL.” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “We’ve seen a lot of spending, that has simply been status quo, putting more money into existing programs, paying off political allies, very very little reform.”
“We came to a fork in the road where we could grow Minnesota’s economy without raising taxes and make Minnesota more competitive and Democrats took the wrong fork,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
Daudt predicted that Democrats would lose points with voters even for the policies they didn’t pass, like the proposed tax hike on beer that eventually failed.
“Those things will probably come back to haunt them,” he said.
Other Democrats said voters will remember a different message.
“I remember right after the election, some people asked Gov. Dayton what will an all-Democratic government mean for Minnesotans,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “And he used one word in his answer. He said ‘Progress,’ and I think that we put a budget together that I’m very proud of.”
Bakk was particularly proud of two accomplishments in the tax bill – eliminating the sales tax paid by local governments to the state, and fully removing sales tax from capital equipment purchases. He also was proud of using the new tax revenue to provide free all-day kindergarten statewide.
“To people who think we’ve overreached, I guess the voters are going to determine that in 2014, but I think we’ve got an awful strong message to sell about Minnesota being a better place for our kids and grandkids as a result of the work of this 88th Legislature,” Bakk said.
But some Democrats remained frustrated at things left unfinished.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley said leaders in his own party ditched a proposed minimum wage increase to accomplish other priorities.
“Senator Bakk agreed with the Senate Republicans not to pass a minimum wage bill and not to pass the bullying bill, in order for them to agree to support a bonding bill to restore the State Capitol building,” said Winkler, who heard the same story of the deal from House Republicans. “We’ll certainly come back in 2014, and maybe the Capitol restoration will be so nice that minimum wage workers can scrape together a few pennies and come see it someday.”
Thissen said he expects the minimum wage hike to be a top initiative next year.
“I think that would help a lot of Minnesotans all across the state,” he said.
The 2013 Minnesota legislative session is likely to come to a tidy but surprising end.
In the wee hours on Monday, the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a $132 million borrowing bill for Capitol restoration and a capitol area parking facility. The Minnesota House has not adopted such a measure. Democratic and Republican leaders said they only learned about the borrowing plan as it was arising on the Senate floor.
The Senate also followed the House in passing a constitutional amendment that would take decisions on legislative pay out of lawmakers' hands and give them to a bipartisan appointed panel instead. Unlike in the House, the Senate measure had Republican as well as Democratic support Monday morning.
Voters will decide whether to adopt that measure in 2016.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate reached deals to allow debate and passage of the final major measures left for the year -- which include funding for many state agencies -- by Monday at midnight, lawmakers’ deadline for getting their work done.
For the House, that work includes a final vote on a contentious measure to allow unionization of child care and home care workers.
While the unionization debate has taken hours and was slated for many more hours of Republican objections, House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said they would be able to conclude it quickly on Monday.
While Daudt and his members strongly oppose that measure, they will let up on the debate that had kept members at the Capitol through the night and into the next day Friday and Saturday.
"I think that we will probably work together throughout the day to make sure that we are treating each other well and respectfully and we are able to get the business done on time," said Daudt.
"We're working together," Thissen said, after he ended a floor session Monday at 3 a.m. The House will meet in session again on Monday at 11 a.m.
But the Senate and House were not working together so smoothly.
"We worked just on schedule over here. They worked on bonding," said Daudt.
He and Thissen both said they had no agreement to pass the $132 million bonding bill the Senate approved. Without House concurrence, that measure will not become law.
Bakk said the Senate vote on the measure proves, "there's strong support to keep these renovations in the Capitol going." The Minnesota Capitol is already covered in scaffolding and plans for renovation are well underway but lack money to continue without more state funding.
"It is up to (the House) now if they want to keep the renovations in the Capitol going or let it come to a halt," he said.
"This is just a thing that happened over here in the Senate," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Like in the House, the Senate leaders agreed that they will not allow debate to drag on past their Monday midnight deadline.
"Senator Hann and I have an agreement that we will have a timely conclusion to this session," Bakk said. Monday during the day, the Senate is expected to approve the budget plan for state agencies as well as a $2 billion tax measure.
Part of that timely conclusion means that the Senate will not deal with an anti-bullying bill that had drawn attention and opposition.
"The Republicans promised a ten-hour filibuster," said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis. "Ten hours which we don’t have, obviously."
"We were in the middle of a debate on bullying that our members, and many people in the state, frankly, don't think is needed and we don't like and we wanted to keep debating that," Hann said. “And we're getting down to the end of session.”
That measure would have expanded the state's law on bullying and, backers said, offered students more protection than currently exists.
"I'm very angry right now," Dibble said, as it was clear the measure would not become law this year. "It means (students) will have to endure another year of not feeling safe and supported in their own schools."
With just hours left in the regular session, legislative leaders started talking about reviving a slimmed down borrowing bill to fund state capital projects.
"We’re going to try and sit down with the Republican leaders today,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said late Sunday.
But as time ticked away, Republicans and Democrats had yet to come to any compromise.
“We don’t want to do a bonding bill so if you want us to do one, what’s the deal? Is there a deal? Is there something we can talk about that we would want?” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “It depends on what else would be part of that agreement.”
Bakk said lawmakers may try to cobble together a measure to spend about $300 million, which would include about $109 million to restore the ailing state Capitol, some flood mitigation projects and a few other items.
On Sunday, Republicans began conversations about what it would take to get that done.
"If they would take child care unionization off the table, I think that would be something that would interest us or at least get a bonding bill in play," said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. "If they want a bonding bill more than we do, it only makes sense that we would get something in return for it."
At midnight Sunday, Daudt said that Democrats had not offered Republicans anything specific in exchange for a borrowing bill nor had they negotiated specifics of what a theoretical borrowing bill would look like.
As the idea of reviving a borrowing bill was awash in the Capitol, a newly fixed up area of the Capitol tunnel sprung a leak with water pouring from the ceiling, filling tub after tub.
The leak itself worked its way on the House floor, as Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, referenced the potential to fix up the Capitol and made mention of the newly soggy basement. He warned members who might be thinking of walking into the tunnel of the watery mess, "due to the current state of our Capitol."
Adding to crumble-gate late Sunday, the Senate's voting board stopped working. That forced the Senate to take an unplanned break from debate on an anti-bullying bill. Staffers said the problem was fixable.
The all-night showdown over whether to allow child-care providers and home-care workers to vote on unionization turned out to be just the first act.
The Minnesota House took up the bill in the wee hours of the Saturday night-Sunday morning session and debated it for about five hours. The bill was then laid on the table and the House adjourned until noon Sunday.
The sponsor, Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the when the House returns, it will take up whatever budget bills are ready for final action.
The debate on the unionization bill will resume at some point Sunday or Monday, he said. It can be taken up for further discussion at any time. The session must end by midnight Monday.
Nelson was cheered by union activists as he left the chamber early Sunday. He said he was able to defeat all hostile amendments and continues to hope he can pass the bill and send it to Gov. Mark Dayton, who supports it.
"The plan right now is to go home and get some sleep," Nelson said after the all-nighter. "We'll resume it some time tomorrow. We've got budget bills that will be coming forward, that we've gotten back from the Senate. We'll take the priorities up first, take care of the priorities for the state of Minnesota, get our budget passed.
"At that time, when we can, we'll take up this bill again."
Asked if he could pass the bill, Nelson said, "I hope so. I wouldn't do all this work if I didn't think so."
The bill stirred the Senate to a 17-hour debate last week that broke records for length. The Senate passed the bill by only three votes.
Both sides had members outside the House chambers throughout the all-night debate, and said they would return Sunday afternoon.
Earlier on Saturday the House passed the K-12 education and environment-agriculture funding bills, while the Senate passed the environment-agriculture bills. Among budget bills still to be acted on are transportation finance, state government finance and taxes.
In the unionization bill, opposition has focused on the child-care portion because providers run their own small, private businesses, and the application of the union model to such work is a stretch even for some Democrats.
Based on years of field organizing by two unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, and the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU – the bill would allow union votes among two groups: In home family child care providers, both licensed and unlicensed, who care for children receiving a state subsidy; and Personal Care Assistants, or PCAs, who are employed by the person they care for, generally a relative, and who also work in the home.
Estimates of the total number of workers vary. The unions estimate the total for both groups at 21,000. The state Department of Human Services says the number of child-care providers who would be affected at 12,712 – a number that does not include affect PCAs.
The Minnesota House began its debate on unionization of home health care workers and child care workers at 2 a.m. Sunday morning.
The debate is expected to last for a while. The Minnesota Senate debated the measure for 17 hours. The House has twice as many members as the Senate.
The measure brought hordes of supporters and opponents to the Capitol, who spent all of Saturday pressing their views.
Backers say the measure would simply let workers vote on whether to join a union.
"It does not create or form a union," said bill sponsor Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
Opponents say it would force private workers to unionize.