Elbow grease ahead for budget bill

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER, BOB VON STERNBERG and WARREN WOLFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 15, 2011 - 11:05 PM

Legislators face a huge pile of work before shutdown can end.

Legislators started Friday on the mountain of work that must be done before Minnesota can finally end its government shutdown and fully reopen for business -- and the first signs are that it will be a slog.

Although an overall budget deal was reached Thursday among legislative leaders and the governor, lawmakers must now determine how an added $1.4 billion of revenue will be divvied up and how an extra $1.8 billion in spending reductions will fall. Those details must be worked out before Gov. Mark Dayton calls legislators into a special session that could start as early as Monday.

"Just in terms of locking down the bills, we have to do a lot of work in a very short period," a visibly exhausted House Majority Leader Matt Dean said on Friday.

In the meantime, state parks and many state offices remain closed and 22,000 state workers are waiting for the go-ahead to get back to their jobs.

The Capitol, still closed to the public, bustled with activity Friday as committee chairs hustled through halls and huddled with commissioners behind closed doors. Staff members toting giant binders were never far behind.

Dayton had set a 10 p.m. Friday deadline for wrapping up the budget bills, and tentatively planned to call a special session as early as Monday. But late Friday, the deadline passed and lawmakers and commissioners were still rushing to find agreement on where the money -- including additional revenue -- would be spent. Talks were expected to continue Saturday.

As state offices remained closed, there was a move afoot to grant amnesty to anglers and others who might have run afoul of licensing regulations during a shutdown that may yet stretch on for days.

While controversial social policy items such as abortion were taken off the table, Republicans maintained Friday that other reforms should stay in the mix. "The policy dictates where the money goes," said House Speaker Kurt Zellers. "You can't just take out all the policy and then hand somebody a chunk of money."

Those policy differences threatened to derail some negotiation Friday. Sen. Mike Parry, R-Waseca, who chairs the state government committee, stormed out of a meeting with Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner James Schowalter on his bill after Schowalter told him the "policy and reforms" were off the table. Among the changes were consolidation of some state agencies and activities.

"I just took my tablet, put it in my folder," Parry said. "And Commissioner Schowalter looked at me and said, 'Senator, please don't leave.' And I said, 'Commissioner, I'm not here to waste my time.'"

Dayton, referring to Parry, said later that some committees would require "adult supervision" to meet their deadlines.

Social conservatives had worked for months with Republicans on those initiatives, and on Friday some were feeling the loss.

"We're devastated," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesotans Citizens Concerned for Life. "This is a really, really bad deal." The group had backed a half-dozen measures that dealt with human cloning, taxpayer funding of abortion and abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

"We were able to pass all of these pro-life measures and we ended up with none of them," Fischbach said. "They were all negotiated away." Republican leaders, he said, "traded babies' lives for this deal."

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said on Twin Cities Public Television that retaining some reforms may be key to rounding up enough Republican votes to pass a final budget. Democrats have already served notice that they find the agreement -- which relies on more borrowing from schools and against future tobacco revenues -- unsatisfactory and many may vote against it.

Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, took a back seat Friday as Republicans met privately with commissioners. "We're not in the room," said House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk said that he "cannot support such an irresponsible solution to this budget crisis." Dayton has said he does not expect Democrats to support the plan, which was originally proposed by Republicans as an alternative to raising taxes.

Earlier in the day, Dayton said he is confident that last-minute disagreements won't derail the agreement. "I don't think anything's going to scotch the deal," he said on Minnesota Public Radio. "The rough edges and details can certainly be resolved."

Shutdown amnesty

One lawmaker, meanwhile, tried to protect the unlikely outlaws of the shutdown. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, said he had drafted a bill to grant de facto amnesty for those penalized because the state was not functioning.

"My bill says no civil fines or penalties, no citations, no criminal penalties during the shutdown if you get in trouble just because the state isn't functioning," he said. "I'm thinking individuals here, probably not companies."

That could include people who were caught fishing without a license or driving with a revoked license because the state did not process their paperwork.

"This is meant to help ordinary folks who would have been legal except for the state government shutdown," said Cornish, Lake Crystal's police chief and chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee.

When a special session does begin, will the public be there to see it? The head of Common Cause Minnesota, Mike Dean, received assurances Friday from the administration that the Capitol would be open during a special session.

Dean said legislators and the public should have at least three days to review proposed legislation before the votes are taken to end Minnesota's two-week shutdown.

"It is irresponsible of legislators to vote on a budget bill that they have not read, and the public deserves time to absorb and respond to the final outcome," Dean said. "While it is important to end the shutdown, it is equally important for the public to know what is in the final budget."

Lawmakers were expected to continue working out details through the weekend.

Staff writers Mike Kaszuba and Bob von Sternberg contributed to this report. Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper

  • related content

  • Vikings stadium deal has to wait

    Saturday July 16, 2011

    "I'd be strung up" for adding the bill to budget session, Senate sponsor says.

  • Fishing licenses, park permits should be available within days

    Saturday July 16, 2011

    The Department of Natural Resources' electronic licensing system should be operating "within a day" once the government shutdown ends, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Friday.

  • Track could open within day of budget agreement

    Saturday July 16, 2011

    The shutdown led to 1,000 employees being laid off, and revenue losses for the track and card club top $2 million.

  • State timber industry: Cut down

    Saturday July 16, 2011

    Harvesting timber was sharply reduced when the government shutdown made state forests off-limits.

  • Majority Leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers entered the governor’s office for discussions.

  • Gov. Mark Dayton spoke to reporters after appearing on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Midday” program Friday.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close