Lawmakers work all night, special session wraps up with budget work finished
ST. PAUL -- House Speaker Kurt Zellers hugged Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and the two called it a session early today after Minnesota legislators passed a budget spending $35.7 billion in the next two years.
Once Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton signs the nine budget bills this morning, 22,000 state workers can begin returning to work. The governor and Zellers and Koch, the top Republican budget negotiators, set aside strongly held political beliefs to work out a budget that both funded the state and ended the Minnesota government shutdown.
The Legislature convened for a special session at 3:05 p.m. Tuesday for the sole purpose of passing a budget. The House adjourned at 3:39 a.m. today, and the Senate about a minute later.
"We got the job done," Rep. Morrie Planning, R-Moorhead, said. "It is a tremendous relief."
While the final budget spends up to $5 billion more than many Republicans wanted, Zellers and Koch said they were pleased.
"I think we did the best that we can," Zellers said moments after gaveling the special session to a close.
Zellers and Koch both looked ahead, saying they want more reforms to shrink the size of government and make it more efficient.
"We've got lots more work to do next year," Koch said.
During the 12-hour, 34-minute special session (as long as some House debates have gone on one budget bill), lawmakers often went at warp speed. The longest debate on a budget bill lasted slightly more than an hour, the shortest three minutes.
The spurts of speed were interrupted by long waits for bill writing to be finished.
Republicans said little about the bills, Democrats usually criticized them.
During the debate, rushed so the shutdown could end as quickly as possible, lawmakers voted to keep health-care funding flowing to poor, disabled and elderly Minnesotans; maintain steady aid to cities (including keeping aid for Duluth, St. Paul and Minneapolis that Republicans wanted to eliminate); cut college and university funding 10.5 percent; and fund nearly $500 million in public works projects around the state.
Suspended state services range from parks to a variety of license services, from beer-buying permits to horse-racing track regulators. Those and other state services gradually will return to normal after Dayton signs the bills.
Dayton broke a lengthy budget impasse Thursday when he suggested passing a borrowing plan, with some changes, that Republicans originally suggested June 30 to increase state spending instead of the governor's idea to increase taxes. That put into motion the intense budget-writing negotiations held in the closed Capitol, out of public view.
One borrowing mechanism would use future payments from a tobacco lawsuit settlement to repay $640 million of bonds. The other plan delays $700 million in state payments to schools, freeing up the money for state programs.
The borrow-and-delay plan that the GOP suggested to allow for more spending provoked the most debate of the night.
"We are making promises we can't keep with money we don't have," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.
He said the tax bill that contains the borrowing plan will force local property taxes up $367 million. "This, make no mistakes about it, is going to hit communities around the state."
House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, told fellow representatives that a vote against the bill was a vote to continue the shutdown.
The special session was limited to budget, public works construction and related bills. A new Vikings football stadium was not part of the session and Dayton did not promise to call one later this year.
Here are votes on budget bills (in most cases, Republicans favored the bills and Democrats opposed):
Public safety and courts, Senate, 57-7; House, 77-51.
Transportation, House, 71-56; Senate, 38-27.
Higher education, House, 71-57; Senate, 35-30.
Environment, Senate, 43-22; House, 71-57.
Jobs-economic development, Senate, 42-23; House, 76-50.
Taxes, House, 71-57; Senate, 37-27.
Health and human services, House, 71-57; Senate, 37-27.
Education, House, 71-56; Senate, 36-28.
State government, Senate, 40-24; House, 81-47.
Bonding, House, 112-17; Senate, 53-11.
Legacy (clean water, arts, outdoors programs), Senate, 63-0; House, 98-30.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.