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With session now over, the wheels begin spinning on who to blame

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers agree the whopping budget deficit they faced this legislative session was no surprise, but point fingers across the political aisle when assigning blame for lack of a budget deal.

The Legislature en-ded its session Monday without a tidy conclusion to its main order of business -- solving a $4.6 billion deficit.

Democrats sent budget bills to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but the Republican said he would be forced to unilaterally balance the budget on his own because the DFL plan spent $3 billion more than the state will collect.

Pawlenty's refusal to consider new taxes in light of this year's $4.6 billion deficit was irresponsible, said Democrats like Sen. Keith Langseth of Glyndon. The DFL wanted to raise taxes or other revenue of $1 billion, he said.

"It's going to be absolutely horrible," Langseth said of Pawlenty's upcoming spending cuts.

Pawlenty will "catch the heat" for cutting spending on his own, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen said, but Democrats were unwilling to make tough budget decisions.

The Legislature, led by Democrats, met for five months and did not get its job done, said Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

The legislative session was "poorly run on a timely fashion," added Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.

Democrats passed their spending bills too early, Howes said. With stark differences on tax issues, that gave Pawlenty an opening to announce he would balance the budget on his own if no agreement was reached.

"He was pretty clear," Howes said.

Any chance of a budget deal was hurt by House and Senate Democratic leaders' desire to grill Pawlenty administration officials for hours on end before a legislative commission, Senate Taxes Chairman Tom Bakk said.

Those public meetings strained relations between the administration and the Legislature, the Cook Democrat said.

"You didn't help the deal any by continuing to drive that wedge," said Bakk, who rarely attended the lengthy commission meetings. "Things get personal and then it gets really hard for people to give some ground and come to some consensus when people have been beating each other up publicly."

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, both Minneapolis Democrats, led those commission meetings. Kelliher has said they were helpful because the public had an opportunity learn about the state budget. Often, budget deals are settled behind closed doors, she said.

"What did they get?" Bakk said. "They didn't get a (budget) deal."

Bakk, a 2010 governor candidate, said he gave the Pawlenty administration an alternative budget offer in the session's final hours, but the governor objected to his proposed income tax surcharge.

Policymakers may face a state budget deficit of between $3 billion and $4 billion in two years, partially because this year's Legislature did not take action to fix future budgets, Bakk said.

"This is an irresponsible conclusion," he said.

Rep. Andrew Falk wants to repeal the governor's unallotment authority.

The Murdock Democrat introduced a bill in the session's closing days that would strip the unilaterally budget-balancing power. Whenever there are decisions about how tax dollars are spent, the Legislature must be part of those discussions, Falk said.

"I'm very concerned about what these unallotments will mean," Falk said, adding that schools, nursing homes and military veterans using state health care programs could be hurt by Pawlenty's cuts.

A first-term legislator, Falk said the session's outcome is "frustrating," but he added: "I can hold my head high because I voted to protect the people in my district."