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It's Not Over Until It's Over

From Politics in Minnesota

To hear the buzz around the Capitol following Gov. Tim Pawlenty's press conference this afternoon, you might think he had just mooted anything the Legislature could possibly do over the last four days of this session.

Not so.

There's still a $1 billion gap in the budget where all parties had assumed that either the governor's appropriation bond borrowing, the Legislature's omnibus tax package, or some equivalent compromise measure would be.

To fill it by himself, Pawlenty would have to find another $1 billion in cuts over and above the $1.5 billion in cuts he put forward in his original budget.

The liberal use of one-time money in the governor's budget--the cost shift, the appropriation bonds--proves that he's known from the start it was impossible to cut his way to balance without slitting his own throat in the process.

When the commission reconvened after Pawlenty's announcement and an impromptu response presser by Kelliher and House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm), Kelliher seemed incredulous and very angry.

Much of the remainder of the meeting involved sparring across party lines between legislative DFLers not quite sure how to reclaim any leverage and Management and Budget Commissioner Tom Hanson, who gave no sign that Pawlenty was prepared to budge on anything.

Regarding the education cost shift that the governor wanted and the Legislature did not pass, Hanson said the delayed payments could be accomplished by financial maneuvers that "mimic" a legislative cost shift.

When Kelliher pointed out the remaining $1 billion revenue gap to Hanson, he acknowledged it: "Yes, Madame Speaker, but it's not going to come by raising taxes. He's made that clear to me, and he's made that clear to you."

Sertich, who has had some of the angriest exchanges with Hanson in LCPFP, then spoke up: "Commissioner Hanson, you can keep telling us what [the $1 billion in revenue] is not, but that doesn't solve the problem. I can tell you what's not going to happen; that doesn't solve the problem."

Hanson: "Rep. Sertich, if you have another idea, we're listening."

Sertich: "Commissioner Hanson, you use words like 'agreement' and 'mutual' as if you mean them, and I don't believe you, quite honestly. What I hear you say on agreement is, we want you to agree with what the governor says, and if you don't do that, we'll go it alone. I don't share the optimism from around this table. I don't think this is funny.... If the governor goes it alone and has it his way, 113,000 Minnesotans will lose health insurance. Sixteen thousand Minnesotans will lose their jobs, and there will be cuts in education and higher tuition. That's not funny. That's not an agreement. I'm not optimistic."

Hanson: "Well, Rep. Sertich, your version of agreement is us doing exactly what you want."

Sertich: "That's not true. We're looking for compromise. We have compromised in many of these bills to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. We've cut more than you've cut. We've lowered our revenue [proposal] down to the revenue that the governor has stated is needed to balance this budget."

And that was more or less the tenor of the whole meeting. Before adjourning, Kelliher held out the possibility the commission might reconvene tonight, and said it certainly would by sometime Friday morning.

Because Pawlenty clearly does not want to incur the added political costs that would come with another $1 billion in cuts, there is almost certainly more haggling to come even if the governor goes the line-item-veto-and-unallotment route on all the other major bills. It also remains possible, though just barely, that some more encompassing compromise on the rest of the budget will be reached. But the absolute anger and bitterness of legislative DFLers today, coupled with the governor's cat-that-ate-the-canary triumphalism and intransigence, make that seem awfully unlikely at the moment.

But there are still four days to go.

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