DFLers, Pawlenty talk about cooperation

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota voters might have sought change when they cast election ballots earlier this week, but they could see much of the same from the Minnesota Legislature as they have the past few years.

ST. PAUL -- Some Minnesota voters might have sought change when they cast election ballots earlier this week, but they could see much of the same from the Minnesota Legislature as they have the past few years.

The newly elected Democratic leaders of the Minnesota House and Senate have pledged to find common ground with Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

But it's unknown whether the bipartisanship will last beyond noon Jan. 3, when the 2007 legislative session begins. Pawlenty and top lawmakers say they want to forge new compromises, but old differences remain over key issues, such as property tax relief, education funding and health-care costs.

The Legislature will look considerably different next year. Republicans will no longer control the House, as Democrats regained the majority in Tuesday's election and will hold an 85-49 margin. Senate Democrats added 15 new members to increase their majority to 44-23.

Leaders of the House and Senate majority, who control what legislation is considered, also are changing.


Minneapolis Democrats Sen. Larry Pogemiller and Rep. Margaret Anderson Kelliher will replace two rural leaders -- Senate majority leader Dean Johnson, aWillmar-area DFLer, and Republican House speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon.

Pawlenty, a former House majority leader, said he will cooperate with the new legislative leaders.

"Our intent and our purpose in the next four years is to work with great diligence toward a common agenda," he told reporters.

Pogemiller, who has sparred with Pawlenty over tax policy in recent years, and Kelliher said they want to work with the governor.

"We're all starting with a clean slate," Pogemiller said.

Given the philosophical differences between Pawlenty and Pogemiller, compromise could be hard to come by, said Sarah Janecek,co-publisher of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter and a Republican strategist.

"I think we can expect fireworks between the leadership and the governor," she said.

Lawmakers' primary job next year will be to pass a two-year state budget, but voters can expect to hear a lot about property tax relief at the Capitol.


The result of those discussions is less predictable.

Like many legislators, Pawlenty has talked about property tax relief. He has pushed to put a lid on property tax increases, arguing the state made tough budget decisions in recent years and local governments should do the same.

"I don't think we're going to do a physical cap," said Sen. Rod Skoe, a Clearwater DFLer who served on the Senate Tax Committee last session. Senate proposals will be guided by the state's February fiscal report, Skoe said, adding that he is optimistic lawmakers will make progress next year.

Democrats say property tax relief should come by increasing state funding to local governments. Kelliher said this week that House DFLers want to pay for that by collecting more tax revenue from companies doing business overseas and by capturing unpaid taxes in Minnesota.

Pawlenty, who opposes tax increases, has said those revenue sources won't cover Democrats' wish list of new spending.

Sviggum, a Pawlenty ally, told reporters that only Pawlenty stands between Minnesotans and DFL-proposed tax increases.

Rep. Paul Marquart of Dilworth said his House DFL caucus picked up seats in the suburbs and rural Minnesota, where tax increases aren't widely supported.

"Believe it or not, we're talking DFL and fiscally conservative in the same sentence," said Marquart, who predicts property tax reform will happen through compromise by both Pawlenty and Democrats. "I don't think there's going to be much appetite for raising taxes."


Pawlenty may not have powerful allies in the Legislature, but he still can get his way, said Craig Grau, a recently retired University of Minnesota Duluth political science professor.

"If you look back to Arne Carlson, he was in the same situation, basically," he said.

Carlson was a more independent Republican than Pawlenty, Grau said. "Arne Carlson, you could say, he got most of what he wanted out of the Legislature, even though both houses were not of his party. The governor is in a very good position that most of the major things that are passed are passed in the last week, and it is very hard to override a veto."

However, Grau said, Pawlenty will have to change his ways to be successful.

"Pawlenty has not been that engaging (with legislators); he is going have to change his style," Grau said.

The governor said during the campaign that he is intentionally more serious than when he took office four years ago and tries to be more cooperative than in the past. He continued saying that after the election.

"The focus, the tone, the temperament will be one of working together," he said.

Grau said the Northland is very interested in one thing: "Who the committee leaders are going to be in the House."


Grau said the election of Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, as House majority leader is important for the northeast, especially since he is young and is the future of his area.

Forum Communications reporter Don Davis contributed to this report.

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