State budget talks 'stuck in a rut'
ST. PAUL - The goal for high-level legislative negotiations today is simple - make progress. "We were stuck in a rut," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said en route to today's first round of talks early this afternoon. ...
ST. PAUL - The goal for high-level legislative negotiations today is simple - make progress.
"We were stuck in a rut," House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said en route to today's first round of talks early this afternoon.
Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty met briefly on health-care issues, then recessed to prepare for a mid-afternoon meeting.
Negotiators are trying to work out details of several major issues so the session can be wrapped up smoothly. Those issues include filling a $935 million budget deficit, finding a way to lower property taxes and approving a health-care reform plan.
Even though Sunday is the last day legislators can pass bills, Kelliher and other leaders were not in panic mode.
The speaker said lawmakers have three options to whip bills through the system quickly: Many of the major remaining bills are in House-Senate conference committees and could be adjusted based on negotiations and in front of the full House and Senate within four hours. If something new pops up, Kelliher said, other conference committees now operating might be able tack on new provisions that negotiators want. The final method of quickly passing bills, she added, is a series of other bills awaiting debate that could be amended with provisions of a session-ending deal.
"It obviously would be nice" to wrap things up today, Kelliher said, but plenty of time remains until the end of Sunday.
Kelliher's Taxes Committee chairwoman, Ann Lenczewski of Bloomington, said negotiators still are looking at ways to lower property taxes. She said the House plan is dead that would have delivered refunds to people who pay high percentage of their income in property taxes. She said too many people were afraid of the plan.
Democrats who control the Legislature and Republican Pawlenty both have proposals to limit property tax increases, but Democrats say the governor's plan would be too much of a limit.
Democrats fear what Pawlenty would do if he is forced to reduce state spending on his own, a procedure known as unallotment.
"Current law is better than his proposal," Lenczewski said of his tax cap. "But unallotment is worse. ... That is keeping us at the table."
Lenczewski said Democrats think that if Pawlenty takes action on his own, he would chop state aid to local governments. Those aids are a method Democrats use to keep local governments from raising property taxes.
"He's not telling us what he would unallot," she said. "We're just guessing."