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Getting to 90: House Override of Pawlenty's Transportation Bill Veto Unlikely

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Governor Tim Pawlenty's veto last Friday of a controversial transportation bill raises the prospect of a veto-override attempt by a DFL-controlled legislature that passed the bills by wide margins on February 21st. The $6.6 billion dollar bill seeks to fund the state's roads, bridges, and transit by implementing a gasoline tax increase, a hike in license tab renewal fees, and increasing the Twin Cities metro area sales tax.

The bill (HF2800) sailed through the House 89 to 44, with all but eight representatives voting along party lines.

The DFL Representatives voting against the bill were:

  • 6-term Representative Mary Ellen Otremba (District 11B)
  • 3-term Representative John Lesch (District 66A)

The GOP Representatives voting in favor of the bill were:

  • 9-term Representative Ron Erhardt from (District 41A)
  • 6-term Representative Kathy Tingelstad (District 49B)
  • 5-term Representative Jim Abeler (District 48B)
  • 3-term Representative Bud Heidgerken (District 13A)
  • 2-term Representative Rod Hamilton (District 22B)
  • 2-term Representative and Assistant Minority Whip Neil W. Peterson (District 41B)

Three of the six Republican Representatives that crossed party lines were involved in very competitive general election races in 2006—each winning by less than 10 points in districts that were carried by DFL-er Mike Hatch in the Gubernatorial race. Representative Rod Hamilton (22B) won his race by 3.1 points, Assistant Minority Whip Neil W. Peterson (41B) won by 6.8 points, and Representative Kathy Tingelstad (49B) won by 8.8 points. Hamilton was also involved in a 1.8-point nail-biter in 2004 when he won the open GOP seat.

Assuming, for the moment, that Minnesota voters are as evenly divided as the DFL and Republican parties on this issue, these three GOP Representatives would then have a strong political incentive to remain with the DFL and vote for the override. (Representatives Erhardt, Heidgerken, and Abeler were not involved in competitive races in 2006 and face no such pressure). However, such a partisan divide on this issue among the electorate is not the case.

A public opinion poll of 700 Minnesotans conducted February 10-11 by SurveyUSA found just 36 percent favored a gas tax increase to pay for improving the condition of roads and bridges, 33 percent favored increasing license tab fees in order to pay for transportation funding, and only 37 percent supported increasing the metro area sales tax in order to pay for transportation funding. A majority or plurality of Republicans, independents, and Democrats opposed each of these measures, according to the poll.

The transportation bill passed through the Senate (SF2521) by a veto-proof 47 to 20 margin. All DFL members voted for the measure, with two Republicans voting against their party leadership:

  • 9-term Senator and President Pro Tem Dennis R Frederickson (District 21)
  • 5-term Senator Steve Dille (District 18)

The DFL leadership in the House must cobble together 90 votes to override Governor Pawlenty's veto—a feat not yet achieved (and rarely attempted)—during the Republican's five-plus years in office. Pawlenty issued 36 vetoes through 2007, including 25 entire bills, with only one override attempt.

The DFL fell short on that attempt, back in May 2007, also concerning a gas-tax laden transportation bill. That bill (HF946), which originally passed the House 90 to 43, also saw two DFL defectors (including Representative Otremba) along with 7 Republicans voting for the measure (including Representatives Abeler, Erhardt, Heidgerken, Peterson, and Tinglestad).

The DFL attempt to override HF946 in 2007 failed by seven votes last May because GOP defectors ultimately voted with their party leadership on the override attempt.

DFL Representative Otremba, of Long Prairie, has stated that the majority of her constituents are against the bill. Otremba has won all 6 of her elections to the House by a comfortable margin, and an average of 25 points, dating back to her 1997 special election victory to fill the seat of her late husband, Ken. Otremba won her 2006 race by 21.3 points.

Given the state's opposition to the revenue-raising provisions of the transportation bill, it seems very unlikely for the House to be able to override Pawlenty's veto.

Previous post: Poll Roundup: Dems vs. McCain
Next post: The Bill Stops Here: Governor Pawlenty's Veto Pen

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