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Bumpy ending leaves lawmakers conflicted

By Andrew Tellijohn

State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota legislative session that started fast enough for some lawmakers to predict an early adjournment hit a logjam after the Easter-Passover break, pushing the finish to deadline day and leaving many with mixed feelings about their work.

Frustration was apparent with many lawmakers during the final days of a session that began in early February, as leaders negotiated with few results for days.

"We should have either started April 1 or been done the end of March," said a tired Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, a few days before session ended.

Some legislators, however, said the session had many positive moments. The frustration of the final days overshadowed many successes, especially early, said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm and others.

By the time they left for Easter-Passover break, legislators had twice passed measures extending health care for some of Minnesota's poorest citizens and providing nearly $700 million for public works projects. Second bills were necessary because in both cases first efforts were vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

"We were very productive early on," Sertich said. "That's almost been forgotten about because of the budget situation."

After the break, however, several issues slowed progress to a crawl. Health care legislation passed by the federal government "changed the dynamics of the session immensely," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer.

That, in part, was because lawmakers delayed negotiating budget balancing plans to see if federal health care dollars would be available to help close the gap.

"We were on very good track to balance the budget early on," said Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids.

The federal money never came. Then, with just more than a week left in the session, the Minnesota Supreme Court determined Gov. Tim Pawlenty's unilateral budget cuts from last summer were illegal, leaving an early $3 billion budget deficit.

While some emphasized the positive, other legislators think Minnesota's biggest problems went largely unsolved with a lot of window dressing bills passing instead.

"It's been rather unproductive," said Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall. "In the 14 years I've been here it's been one of the least productive sessions."