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Democrats reject Pawlenty offer

Rep. Paul Marquart told fellow House-Senate tax negotiators that Jackson County, Minn., was named after territorial legislator Henry Jackson.

"That's valuable information," Sen. Tom Bakk deadpanned, before informing the committee: "I spent a summer working for St. Louis County looking for old monuments."

It is not exactly the conversation expected a week before the state constitution requires the year's legislative session to end - at a time when lawmakers still must solve a $4.6 billion deficit as they write a $33 billion, two-year budget.

The Monday exchange between Democrats Bakk of Cook and Marquart of Dilworth illustrated how little progress was being made on important tax and spending issues. Most of the state budget remains to be finished, and on Monday signs pointed to the Democratic-controlled Legislature sending the governor bills he probably will not accept.

A new budget offer by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty met with Democratic legislative leaders' strong opposition.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, rejected it in a Twitter message as "not a responsible plan."

Pawlenty's three-part offer included:

-- Cutting his plan in half to borrow nearly $1 billion for state operating funds.

-- Accept a Senate-passed provision to do without the $250 million budget reserve he had wanted.

-- Move toward a House plan to delay state payments to school districts, which would save the state money in the next budget.

Pawlenty estimated that the three moves would generate $1 billion, the same amount included in a tax bill he vetoed early Saturday.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the offer does not move the Legislature closer to ending its work.

Sertich said Democrats who control the Legislature will send the remaining budget bills to Pawlenty without the governor's buy-in if necessary. He said all budget bill compromises should be wrapped up today, or mid-day Wednesday at the latest.

With lots of talk around the Capitol that work will not be finished in a week, Republican senators Monday began wearing buttons warning Minnesotans that a special session would cost $40,000 a day. Some Democrats promoted a "lights on" bill to keep state government operating in case lawmakers and Pawlenty do not agree to a budget by July 1, when the new budget cycle begins.

Kelliher told a group of faith, labor and nonprofit organizations rallying for money at the Capitol that Pawlenty's tax bill veto was bad news for segments of the population it was designed to help.

"On Saturday, the governor glibly and quickly vetoed ... hope for our schools, the governor vetoed hope for our hospitals, the governor vetoed hope for our nursing homes and long-term care facilities," she said to chants of "override."

But House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said that there is no way House Republicans will give Democrats the votes needed to override the Pawlenty veto.

"Minnesotans are demanding that government downsize, rightsize and economize to grow jobs without whacking taxpayers with tax increases," Seifert said.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce members are being encouraged to lobby lawmakers to oppose any tax increase. A Willmar Lakes Area Chamber memorandum, for instance, seeks "as many calls and e-mails as possible to our legislators. The message is simple - don't raise taxes."

In the meantime, state revenues continue to fall below predictions made in February. They were down $24 million last month, making for a $70 million shortfall in the past three months.

Meanwhile, senators passed 36-30 a $2 billion public safety bill funding the Corrections Department, courts and other related programs.

The measure cuts $61 million from the public safety and courts, a reduction eased by $38 million in federal economic stimulus funds. It increases fees and surcharges $39 million.

Most agencies funded by the bill are cut less than 3 percent.

The measure includes $1.6 million to house prisoners in state facilities that now are in county jails. Counties long have complained they are paying for prisoners, who should be funded by the state.

The bill strengthens laws making it illegal to operate boats, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles while drunk.


In other Monday activity, the Senate voted 50-16 to order state officials to stop investing in Iran-related business.

Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, said Monday's release of Iranian-American journalists Roxana Saberi -- a 32-year-old Fargo, N.D., native - is proof "that economic pressure worked."

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said that in other situations "the sanctions we have been using may have been counter productive."

A similar bill passed the House.

One of the so-called non-controversial issues in a tax bill is a provision to provide Moorhead, Dilworth, Breckenridge and East Grand Forks residents tax breaks for buying a new home, or one built in 2008 and that never has been sold.

Taxes on the first $200,000 would be eligible for the tax break, $50,000 more than a similar North Dakota law.

Total value allowed for the tax breaks would be $2 million, Marquart said.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.