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DFL: Change comes with new governor

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, says it was a tough session for Bemidji but some positives were seen in renewable energy policies. At left is Sen. Linda Berglin and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, Minneapolis Democrats, who flew around the state Tuesday to put their spin on the recently ended session. Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

DFL lawmakers fell short of their goal in session-ending maneuvers, leaving $1.4 billion in federal health care funds on the table.

Or, at least until the next governor is elected.

It won't be Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is not seeking a third term.

"The roots of the budget crisis were in the governor's inability to make hard decisions at the right time," Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said Tuesday in Bemidji.

"I can't think of anything better than moving onto a new executive in terms of the political dynamics in the state," Pogemiller said. "The governor was very easy to work with this year; I do not complain about that at all. I think a burden has been lifted off his shoulders, governing Minnesota is no longer his objective. He's now facing national ambitions which energizes him more."

Pawlenty announced last summer he would not seek a third term, and is said to be positioning for a Republican run at president in 2012 although he remains coy when asked.

"The decisions I do not think were in the long-term interests of the state," Pogemiller said. "I do not think he has left Minnesota better off than when he took office. Minnesota is significantly worse off since he became governor of the state."

The biggest disappointment, said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, was the governor's refusal to accept a DFL proposal to move former General Assistance Medical Care patients into an Enhanced Medical Assistance federal program. Spending $188 million in state money on the program would leverage $1.4 billion in federal funds.

Pogemiller and Berglin flew around the state Tuesday to give the DFL spin to the session, and were joined in the Bemidji Regional Airport news conference by Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji.

"Minnesota is one of the lowest states in the nation, 46th, in terms of drawing down federal funds," Berglin said. "The option that we have to enroll people without children covered under our health care programs today into Medical Assistance would bring us for every dollar we invest $7.45 back in federal dollars."

She called it a "golden goose that would provide a lot of funding to help the economy in Minnesota today."

In the final pact, the governor has the option to direct the Department of Human Services to submit the application for Enhanced Medical Assistance or, if he does not, it's $1 that will be withheld from health providers who will be losing and not gaining, Berglin said.

The federal money would create $2.2 billion in business activity, she said, and create nearly $900 million in salaries and wages.

If Pawlenty does not make the application, it is left open for his successor next January. "If it doesn't happen, then we hope after the election, with a different governor, we might be able to get those federal funds."

Berglin said the DFL was able to get $10 million more for rural hospitals should the GAMC program continue while waiting for action on federal funding.

A pool was created for hospitals serving GAMC patients, but only a few metro hospitals joined. It is hoped the new funds will broaden participants, such as North Country Regional Hospital, Berglin said. A risk limiter was put into law allowing participating hospitals to cap the number of GAMC patients they see.

DFLers weren't successful in increasing funds through formula changes. NCHS would have received about $5 million more a year but Pawlenty ordered those changes out of the bill.

It's a reason why Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, voted against the final budget bill during Monday's special session, Pogemiller said.

"We had in the bill passed twice by the Senate provisions that would get the Bemidji hospital $5 million more in federal financing," Berglin said. "The governor insisted that be removed from the agreement before it could be passed. That's an unfortunate loss for the Bemidji hospital."

"It was a tough last few days, and last week, for sure," Persell said. He called it a good deal to spend $188 million in state funds to get $1.4 billion in federal funds. "It's a significant undertaking and it's one that makes so much sense it kinda makes you hurt to think that we wouldn't do it."

Persell said that "we were left out, and now we at least have an opportunity to get some funding for reimbursements."

Locally, Persell and Pogemiller noted that the Bemidji area lost $15 million in public works bonding projects through Pawlenty's veto. It meant the loss of 400 construction jobs.

The game and fish omnibus bill Pawlenty has yet to sign or veto contains provisions lifting a ban on spearing game fish in Cass Lake, Persell said.

That bill also includes funding for Olson's Star Lakes program which recognizes lake associations with lake management plans, Pogemiller said.

He also lauded Olson for her work on whistleblower legislation, which Pawlenty did veto, and a data practices bill that he did sign. Olson's bill to merge natural resources agencies fell short, but Pogemiller said it will return.

"We were able to make some progress on the budget by cutting $1.2 billion in spending," Pogemiller said. "We did not cut schools, hospitals or nursing homes."

The bonding bill that did make law will create 14,000 to 20,000 jobs, he said. "This community, Bemidji, suffered greatly because the governor vetoed five or six projects that would have created jobs for this area of the state."

A new investment tax credit should create 10,000 new jobs, he said. Some 20,000 jobs will be created in the health care industry should the early enrollment in Medical Assistance be accepted.