Amid chaos surrounding the budget deadlock between the Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty, the Legacy Amendment negotiations between conferees from the House and Senate have been sidelined.
After adjourning about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, a meeting was set for 11 a.m. Sunday. Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, was supposed to have the gavel — alternating it with Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, co-chair of the conference committee.
But the 11 a.m. meeting was never officially begun. Instead it was changed to 6 p.m. But 6 p.m. came and went, and now, at 10:48 p.m., the House is taking up a pension bill that could be time-consuming, meaning it could be midnight or even later before Legacy Amendment conferees gather again.
Generally, work on the bill has to be done by about noon on Monday, so final bills can be drafted and taken to the House and Senate floors for votes.
For that to occur, a lot will have to happen in a hurry. So far, neither the House nor Senate has given much ground, even though conservation, wildlife and environment groups of every stripe back the Senate version.
At stake is $210 million in new sales tax revenues, with about a third of that — $70 million — dedicated for fish, game and wildlife habitat.
Murphy had said on Friday morning that perhaps a bill wouldn't come out of the Legislature this year, meaning that the 56 percent of Minnesota voters at the polls last November who advocated for more habitat and cleaner water, as well as parks and trails funding and arts funding, had missed the mark in trusting the Legislature to move these projects ahead.
In the end, the DFL has a lot at stake in the Legacy Amendment outcome. As this is being written, legislators want Pawlenty to approve $1 billion or more in new taxes — yet the DFL can't even agree on appropriation of $210 million, generally, for the outdoors.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, just stopped by, having left a meeting between Cohen and Murphy. Pogemiller seemed unaware — and not unexpectedly, given the budget issues he's dealing with — of details of the conflict arising between the House and Senate over the Legacy Amendment.
"But Cohen and Murphy are talking right now,'' Pogemiller said. "Though I get the impression they are talking more about the arts'' (than the conservation provisions of the Legacy Amendment legislation.)