Minnesota Legislature: Republicans feel no pressure to override
ST. PAUL -- Rod Hamilton says his decision last year to help override Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto of a tax-raising transportation bill showed his willingness to take a tough vote.
However, the Mountain Lake Republican said, it is not a tough decision to stick with the governor this year in opposing another vetoed bill that would raise taxes.
"We don't know what it would do," Hamilton said of a $1 billion measure that increases income and alcohol taxes and directs the revenue to schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
Republican representatives such as Hamilton, political moderates, are the targets of Democrats who want to override Pawlenty's tax veto. They say pressure from organizations facing cuts will be so strong that some Republicans may feel forced to override the veto.
Republicans appear united as lawmakers near their Monday midnight constitutional adjournment deadline.
"It's too late," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said. "There will be no override."
The tax bill, which Democrats may attempt to revive in the legislative session's closing days, does not fix inequities in how rural health-care facilities are funded, Hamilton said. That is a concern in his southwestern Minnesota legislative district, Hamilton said.
Hamilton, a center of attention during last year's transportation tax debate, said he is not getting pressure from people back home to raise taxes as a way to set a new state budget and erase a $4.6 billion deficit.
Republicans say that while their preference is not to leave budget-balancing to Pawlenty, Democrats who control the Legislature sent him bills that leave the budget out of balance.
"I am upset, but what choice did we give him?" Hamilton asked.
Pawlenty said Thursday that if the Legislature is unwilling to work with him to reach "reasonable budget solution," he will balance the next two-year budget on his own by cutting spending to match revenue.
When asked about whether he had any concerns about Republicans sustaining his tax bill veto, Pawlenty said: "No."
With just three days remaining before the Legislature's midnight Monday deadline, Democrats say pressure will build on Republicans who have stood with the governor but may reconsider after seeing how those spending cuts could affect their local communities.
DFLers on Friday distributed a list of hospitals around Minnesota and the amount of state payments they could miss out on as a result of Pawlenty's line-item veto of $381 million from the health-care budget bill.
"The governor's own actions ... make a lot of members of the Legislature nervous, bipartisanly," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said.
Kelliher indicated that any attempt to override the Pawlenty tax bill would come Sunday or Monday, after Democrats try to publicize details of the Pawlenty administration's unallotment plans.
"They're not going to get a public outcry because people are not engaged in what we do inside this room," said Rep. Larry Howes of Walker, another Republican who said he will not be pressured into "peeling off" and helping to override the tax veto.
Howes said there still is time to reach a budget deal among Republicans and Democrats.
If that does not happen, Pawlenty said health-care programs, social services spending and state aid to cities and counties would be among the targets for unallotment, a process by which the governor unilaterally cuts funding so state spending and revenue match.
"The governor, if it comes to this, is going to be as humane as possible," House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, said.
The spending cuts will be "serious," said GOP Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City, but the governor told Republican lawmakers that his state funding reductions to local governments and hospitals would not be as deep as he proposed earlier this year.
It is up to Democrats to present an alternative to Pawlenty's plan, Lanning said.
"I don't want to see it come to unallotment and I don't think the (Democratic) majority wants to see it come to unallotment, but frankly the ball's in their court," Lanning said.
He said he always has been open to tax increases if he believes that spending is reduced wherever possible and government is reformed. Democrats have not offered enough of either, he said.
House Democrats would need at least three Republican votes to override a veto, if all Democrats stick together. Senate Democrats can overturn gubernatorial vetoes without any Republican votes.
"The Senate will override if it comes to us," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-Cloud.
Seifert said he was confident that will not occur because House Republicans must stand with Pawlenty.
"What's the alternative? They don't have a balanced budget," Seifert said of Democrats.
Scott Wente works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Bemidji Pioneer.