Archive for the ‘Legislature’ Category

“Halftime” at the Minnesota Legislature

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Members of the Minnesota House and Senate went home last Monday for their Easter/Passover break. They return Tuesday. In terms of legislative days they are more than half done with the 2010 Legislative session. In terms of number of votes and the heaviest lifting of balancing the budget, they are not halfway there. At any rate, this point in the session could be considered “halftime”.

In the first half of the 2010 Legislative session, three noteworthy things happened. Each one of them gave House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher (who is a DFL candidate for Governor) a chance to show her leadership skills, and she failed at each opportunity.

The first is the capital investment (or borrowing bill, or debt bill, or whatever you want to call it) “bonding bill”. Democrat leadership in the House and Senate, true to form, passed a larger borrowing package than Governor Tim Pawlenty preferred. The $1,000,000,000 monstrosity sailed through the House and Senate, and the conference committee worked out the differences. Before the House voted on the conference committee report, House Republican Leader Kurt Zellers moved to reject the conference committee report and send it back to conference committee. This motion failed and the Democrat-led House and Senate each voted to pass the conference committee report and send the bill on to the Governor.

Except Democrat leadership had second thoughts and took the unusual action of not sending the bill on to the Governor. They decided to put the conference committee back to work as a “working group”. Their job was to put a couple projects in the Governor wanted so he would be less likely to veto the whole bill. This strategy worked to some extent, but the Governor used his line-item veto authority to cut about $300 million worth of projects out of the bill.

The second major action by the Legislature in the first half of the 2010 session was the general assistance medical care (GAMC) fix. Last year, the Governor had unalloted money the Legislature had appropriated for this program that provides medical care for the poorest of the poor. Unfortunately, GAMC was an inefficient program that was growing at an unsustainable rate. This year Democrats passed legislation to restore this money without any reform to the program, and the Governor vetoed the bill. Speaker Kelliher made the decision to bring the bill up for an override vote in the House in spite of the fact a bipartisan group led by Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL – St. Paul) and Rep. Matt Dean (R – Dellwood) was close to working out an innovative solution.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL – Chisholm) stated on the House floor that there were only two choices. Either override the Governor or let the Governor’s veto stand. Democrats failed at getting the 2/3 vote necessary to override, so the Governor’s veto stood. Within a couple days, the group working on a compromise announced they had a deal.

Eventually a bill came forward to change GAMC into a more efficient program that provides better health care to the poor at less cost to the taxpayers. So much for Sertich’s “there are only two choices” philosophy. Speaker Kelliher knew the bipartisan group was close to a deal before she allowed the override attempt to come up. She could have waited until another solution to come forward. But the override attempt was shameless pandering to her DFL base to win votes in her quest for her party’s endorsement.

However, the real winners were House Republicans. By sticking together, they prevented the veto override, and put forward much of the final package. They showed that Republicans are not the party of no, and that they care that the poorest of the poor get the medical care they need.

The third major action by the Legislature was the “balancing” of one-third of the budget deficit. A bill was passed that provided funding, or in most cases, cut funding to state agencies and programs. Democrat leadership took the low hanging fruit in the first half of the session. However, this bill did not address K-12 education or Health and Human Services, which combined, comprise most of the budget.

Democrats will brag to their constituents back home that they solved one-third of the deficit. However, they are setting up for one of three things (or a combination of these things) to happen. They will either have to cut K-12 education, cut nursing homes or raise taxes. Now some Democrats are willing to cut K-12 educatoin. Some Democrats are willing to cut nursing homes. However, very few Democrats are averse to raising taxes. Except in an election year like this one, they may be gun-shy. But do they really want to hold the line on taxes, just to risk alienating their core constituencies in the teachers’ union or the welfare rights crowd? Again, this leaves Speaker Kelliher in a precarious position.

Some speculate Democrats will quickly pass budget cuts to these areas without a tax increase and adjourn sine die, leaving the rest to Governor Pawlenty. If he signs them into law it’s all on his shoulders since it’s a waste of time sending him a tax increase bill, the philosophy goes. But the Governor still has the power to call the Legislature back into special session, saying the Legislature didn’t finish its work.

This remains to be seen. But the harsh reality is that it’s much tougher to be in the majority and have to make the difficult decisions than be in the minority and criticize the decisions that are made, like Democrats did during the last budget deficit.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives with the Republican Caucus. This website is not paid for nor operated by any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party. Opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the website administrator, and not necessarily those of any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party.

Why Procedural Motions Sometimes Matter

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

When making a judgment on legislators, most individuals and interest groups focus on the “big votes”. In other words, the vote on an entire bill rather than an obscure amendment, or a vote to override a veto rather than a procedural motion. Most often, votes on procedural motions are split down party lines, and usually ignored by parties and interest groups. However, when Minnesota’s version of the debt laden porkulus bill was considered this past week, there were very important procedural motions in the House and Senate that should speak very loudly and clearly about how the Democrat majority in both Houses of the Legislature are playing games with the taxpayers’ credit card.

On Monday, February 22, 2010, the debt bill came back to the House from the House-Senate conference committee for repassage. Republican Leader Kurt Zellers moved to reject the conference repoert and return the bill to conference committe. The motion failed, mostly along party lines, and the conference committee report was adopted and the bill was repassed and sent to the Senate. In the Senate, Sen. Warren Limmer (R – Maple Grove) made the motion to reject the conference report and return the bill to the conference committee. Again, the motion was defeated mostly along party lines. The conference committee report was adopted and the bill was repassed and sent to the Governor. 

Or so we thought. That’s what usually happens to a bill that passes both bodies of the Legislature. However, the Democrat leadership, re-thinking the prospect of a borrowing bill at the Sham-wow price of $999,999,000 getting vetoed in its entirety by the Governor, then hung onto the bill and put the conference committee, now known as a “working group” back to work.

Capitol insiders don’t remember this kind of maneuvering happening since early statehood days when a bill to move the capitol to St. Peter mysterously disappeared.

Democrat leadership could have just listened to the minority concerns that the bill was too large and would be vetoed by the Governor. But they instead opted to defeat the motions by Republicans to reject the conference report. Rather than admit that Republicans are right, Democrat leadership chose to be the ones in control and use a procedure rarely, if ever, used to keep their debt bill from getting vetoed.

This cannot be good for House Speaker Margaret Anderson-Kelliher’s (DFL – Minneapolis) reputation as a leader as she seeks her party’s endorsement for Governor.

Representatives from the East Central Minnesota area voting with Democrat leadership were Tim Faust, Jeremy Kalin, and Gail Kulick Jackson.

Rep. Bill Hilty joined Republicans in voting to send the bill back to conference committee and voting against final passage of the bill. Let’s not kid ourselves. Rep. Hilty didn’t suddenly become a fiscal conservative. He voted ageinst final passage because the bill did not contain the tens of millions of dollars for the Moose Lake Sexual Offender Program expansion in his district.

Rob Eastlund (R – Isanti) was excused from this late evening session and did not vote.

In the Senate, Sen. Lisa Fobbe and Sen. Rick Olseen, both Democrats, sided with their leadership on these votes. Sen. Tony Lourey (D – Kerrick) sided with Republicans, presumably for the same reasons as Rep. Hilty.

Democrat leadership can talk bipartisanship all they want, but if they continue to stonewall the minority, even when they know they’re right, their talk of bipartisanship will fall on deaf ears.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives with the Republican Caucus. This website is not paid for nor operated by any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party. Opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the website administrator, and not necessarily those of any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party.

Are Democrats Opposed to Private Sector Jobs?

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

It is typical when a chief executive gives an address to the Legislative branch that the response by the live audience is very partisan. For example, when a President gives the state of the union address, members of his party will applaud at all the appropriate places in the speech, and if the point is particularly poignant, they will stand and cheer. Conversely, members of the opposing party, while usually polite, will remain silent when most of the applause lines are delivered, unless it’s a point that nearly everyone can agree with.

So when Governor Tim Pawlenty delivered his state of the state address, I was not surprised when Democrats refused to applaud in response to the Governor’s calls to reduce spending, and to get Minnesota out of the top ten in the nation for tax burden.

However, one obvious applause line that everyone should have agreed with, was when the Governor talked about the need to create private sector jobs. But when he delivered this line, and the right side of the House Floor where Republicans were seated applauded, the left side where Democrats were seated was nearly silent.

Nothing much surprises the Truth Detector anymore, but on this one the Truth Detector says, “Are you kidding me?” Are Democrats really opposed to private sector job creation? Are Legislative Democrats  that beholden to public employee unions that they don’t dare publicly approve of private sector jobs? Where do they think the money to pay public employees comes from?

The Truth Detector says Minnesota’s financial mess will not get straightened out with the current Legislative leadership  in charge of things.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives with the Republican Caucus. This website is not paid for nor operated by any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party. Opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the website administrator, and not necessarily those of any legislator, legislative caucus, candidate or political party.

MN House Meltdown IV – The Final Minutes of Session

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

The final minutes of the 2009 Legislative session in many ways were a repeat of the end of the 2007 session. The Democrat majority had all session to balance the budget in a way that would be acceptable to the Governor. Governor Tim Pawlenty had been very clear all along that he would veto tax increases. However, that didn’t stop Democrats from trying to jam through a huge tax increase bill in the waning minutes before the constitutional deadline for adjournment.

The difference that this year brings compared to previous years? As Rep. Tom Emmer (R – Delano) stated during the debate referring to the 33-page mega tax increase bill, “I’ll give you credit for one thing – you managed to do, in much fewer pages, a lot more damage than you did with a lot more pages the last time!”

And that was the only difference. Billions of dollars of tax increases in a complicated tax bill plopped on legislators’ desks literally minutes prior to the constitutional deadline for adjournment. Democrat leadership didn’t want the public to know, and it could be argued, they didn’t want members of their own caucus to know what was in the bill. Just vote yes.

This led to the procedural meltdown that was nearly a replay of the 2007 session. Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL – Chisholm) making a motion to end debate, Republicans, trying to stop the bill by asking questions and demanding standing votes and roll call votes, and ultimately, a clearly rattled Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher cutting everyone off and getting the bill to a vote ahead of the midnight deadline in spite of the fact several Republican members were seeking recognition to be recognized and speak.

It was an ugly scene for anyone to watch.

The bill passed the House 82-47. Republican Reps. Buesgens, Emmer, Hackbarth and Holberg did not vote on the bill. DFL Reps Kath, Obermueller, Otremba, Pelowski and Poppe joined 42 Republicans in voting against this tas increase. The bill was then rushed to the Senate where a similar scene took place. In that chamber, all Republicans refused to vote. The bill passed 35-1 with Sen. Sparks (DFL – Austin) casting the lone “no” vote. 

In the end, the Bill was vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty, which was expected.

So why did the Democrat leadership play that game? Simply so they could say they sent the Governor a balanced budget. Yes, Democrats needed to jam through a colossal tax increase to cover all the spending they sent the Governor during the previous month.

The Governor will not call the legislature into special sessoin. He will use his unallotment authority to unilaterally make spending reductions. DFL legislative leaders recently sent the Governor a letter saying they would not help him with unallotment. No surprise there. They’ve been no help with the budget all session. Why would they start now?

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. Tihs blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the website administrator and not necessarily those of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.

Of Cocoa Bean Mulch, Indigenous Earthkeepers and Composting Grants

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

Little more than a week from now, politicians in St. Paul will be pointing their fingers of blame at others in their explanations as to why a special session is needed to complete the state’s budget. But keep this in mind. Legislative leaders have known since February how big the deficit is, and they have known how difficult it would be to make the tough decisions. This, however, did not prevent the Democrat leadership from wasting time debating ridiculous proposals, frivolously spending money and sending bills to Governor Tim Pawlenty that they know he will veto.

This past week the Minnesota House spent a half hour debating a bill that would require retailers who sell cocoa bean mulch to put up a sign, in 36-point type, warning consumers that their dog might die if they eat it. Apparently someone’s dog died and now we need legislation that forces retailers to put up signs (as if they don’t have enough signage requirements already). The bill eked out of the House with enough votes to make it to the Governor’s desk, where it died under his veto pen.

The Jobs and Economic Development Bill, if one could call it that, had a $250,000 provision for an “Indigenous Earthkeepers” program to American Indian youth for environmental educaiton and training. This bill also had a $34 million loan forgiveness to the City of St. Paul for some hockey rink that the state has already forgiven $17 million on. Thankfully, the Governor vetoed this bill.

Another item that the Democrats thought was a high priority showed up in the Omnibus Environment and Energy Bill is $500,000 for composting grants.

Probably the biggest waste of time are the tax increase bills the Democrats are passing, knowing these bills will die a quick death once they meet up with Governor Pawlenty’s veto pen. Rather than making tough spending choices and reforming government, the Democrats are choosing to play a losing game of “chicken” with the Governor.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of the Minnesota House of Representatives in the Republican Caucus. This blog is not paid for or sponsored in any way by any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee. Opinions expressed herein are those of the administrator of this website and not necessarily that of any legislative caucus, political party, candidate or candidate’s committee.