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Political Notebook: Now legislative battles really begin

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ST. PAUL -- In some people's minds, there is a disconnect between legislators negotiating with the governor while at the same time on the same bill overriding his veto.

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And a maneuver never used before, holding back an already passed bill so the governor does not veto it, could be seen as confrontational.

That is the way the 2010 Minnesota legislative session has gone; it's been a wild ride.

The session begins its second month on Thursday, two days after lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty learn how big a budget deficit they really face; that is when the real work, with more serious controversy, begins.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Management and Budget releases what is called a "budget forecast," predictions about how state revenue and spending mesh.

The most recent forecast, in early December, reported a $1.2 billion budget deficit. Capitol finance experts say they expect little change in Tuesday's report, certainly not enough to fill the gap.

The next step will be to plug that gap, and all sides say cutting state spending will play a major role.

While Pawlenty's spokesman said that the Republican governor expects to see a full budget proposal from Democrats who control the Legislature, leading lawmakers appear leaning toward making cuts in three phases.

Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, said that he expects the first budget-cutting will surface in two or three weeks. It would cut most state programs other than education and health care. He said most of those cuts would be fairly noncontroversial.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, another Minneapolis Democrat, said that her finance committees may be able to start producing budget bills a few days after the forecast.

Expect budget cuts, and later the topic of raising taxes, to dominate Capitol news the next two and a half months.

Controversy, then gone

It is understandable that rumors fly after someone who has been around the Capitol 21 years decides to leave.

And it is even more understandable that they fly just after the person unveils a controversial proposal.

So, of course, it was no surprise that those rumors feature Jim Mulder, Association of Minnesota Counties' executive director, who on Tuesday announced a plan to redesign counties, including allowing counties to collect sales tax and taking over state patrol and highway maintenance duties.

Actually, Mulder said, he thought about staying on an extra year to shepherd the proposal through the Legislature. But in the end, he and his wife decided that he should devote his time to completing his doctorate in public administration.

"There is absolutely no truth to it," he said of the rumor that he was forced out. "I had planned to do this."

In fact, he added, a couple county commissioners "are very angry with me leaving."

During an Ash Wednesday service, Mulder decided how he would explain his resignation: "I'm giving up my job for Lent." But his pastor issued a rejoinder: "Don't blame me for that."

Flip-flop ad

A pre-flip-flop advertisement warns state Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall, a GOP governor candidate, not to change his vote on General Assistance Medical Care.

Seifert and most other Republican representatives voted in favor of the bill to retain GAMC, a program to help the state's poorest people get health care. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota has an Internet ad saying he needs to stand by that original vote if a veto override attempt comes up.

The organization says that Seifert has supported veterans in the past, and many veterans depend on GAMC.

"Now he's backtracking from his commitment, showing that scoring political points has taken a front seat to compassion for our veterans as he seeks the Republican endorsement," the alliance's Joe Davis said.

Rep. Matt Dean, DFL-Dellwood, said as lawmakers left for the week on Friday that all Republicans would stand by the governor's veto, even though most originally voted for the bill.

Republicans said they voted for the bill thinking it would go to a conference committee, where differences with the governor could be worked out. Instead, senators sent the bill directly to the governor.

Hospital help?

All eight Minnesota congressmen and two senators asked Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, to change rules that they claim hurt rural Minnesota hospitals.

The rule requires that doctors be present at a hospital and immediately available before a hospital can bill Medicare. That is impossible in some rural hospitals, lawmakers said, because doctors are in limited supply.

"These new requirements are not mandated in statute, nor did Congress intend for them to be gleaned from existing law," the lawmakers wrote. "Even more concerning, (the federal government) imposed these new mandates without any identified clinical need or discernment between the few medically complex services that naturally require more hands-on participation by a physician and the numerous routine, low-risk procedures that have been performed safely for decades by trained health care professionals working under a physician's general supervision and direction if not always in his/her physical presence."

The 10 lawmakers reminded Sebelius that as health care costs are soaring, such a rule would add to cost for rural Minnesotans.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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