ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Minnesota Legislative session turns rough, as lawmakers await bad news on deficit

ST. PAUL -- The big legislative issue is settled, now attention turns to the really big issue. After lawmakers overrode a transportation funding bill veto Monday, state officials prepared for what will be a more difficult task: how to fix a budge...

ST. PAUL -- The big legislative issue is settled, now attention turns to the really big issue.

After lawmakers overrode a transportation funding bill veto Monday, state officials prepared for what will be a more difficult task: how to fix a budget deficit that some say could top $1 billion. And if Gov. Tim Pawlenty's mood Tuesday afternoon is any indication, the next three months could be pretty contentious.

"The session isn't even a month old and they [Democrats] have passed two major tax bills," Pawlenty told reporters soon after returning from leading a National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C.

The Republican governor was critical of Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party members, who control the House and Senate, for first passing a sales tax increase to pay for outdoors and arts programs and on Monday overriding his veto of the state's largest-ever tax increase to pay for transportation.

"The hardworking families of Minnesota are going to say 'enough,' " he added.

ADVERTISEMENT

Pawlenty said only a few hundred of the 3,000 calls his office has received favored the transportation funding bill, which raises gasoline taxes, Twin Cities sales taxes and motor vehicle registration fees.

The governor talked about lowering some taxes, but was not specific.

Pawlenty said he did not know how bad blood over the transportation bill will affect the rest of the session.

However, he did have one prediction, on Thursday's state budget report: "It is going to be bad."

Filling the growing deficit is lawmakers' next major task.

"I have no idea how we are going to resolve this," Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, told 200 Duluth residents gathered in St. Paul for Duluth-St. Louis County Days at the Capitol.

Ideas will be needed soon. On Thursday, Finance Department officials release a report about how the slumping economy will affect state the budget.

When they released their last report, in November, economists predicted the current two-year budget would face a $373 million deficit. Now, it is generally is accepted that the deficit could grow to double or triple that. Pawlenty administration officials are tight-lipped about the exact number.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I hear people are going to be real happy if we end up with something less than $1 billion," Sen. Bill Ingebritsen, R-Alexandria, told his colleagues during the transportation bill debate.

Democrats who control the Legislature downplayed the need for tax increases before the legislative session began two weeks ago, but now House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, says she will not rule out anything.

However, Pogemiller appeared to rule out tax increases in his talk to the St. Louis County event. Going into a recession, as economists say is happening, "we absolutely don't want to burden families," the leader said.

Instead, spending must be reduced, he added.

"We are going to have to make a lot of budget cuts," he said.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the size of the deficit will affect how lawmakers attack the problem.

Kelliher promised that a Duluth Entertainment Convention Center addition will win approval this year. "I am not going to go to Duluth if it doesn't get done," she joked.

She also said that a Twin Cities-to-Duluth passenger train took a step forward with the transportation bill passage. "That idea stepped a lot closer to reality yesterday than you ever could imagine," she said.

ADVERTISEMENT

DON DAVIS works for Forum Communications, which owns the Duluth News Tribune.

What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.