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With shutdown averted, Legislature adjourns
By Michael Khoo, Minnesota Public Radio
June 30, 2001

The Minnesota Legislature wrapped up a new two-year budget early Saturday morning, hours before a partial government shutdown would have begun. Lawmakers approved the final three spending bills and a bonding bill for long-term investments.

EMPLOYEES IN THE STATE REVISOR'S OFFICE have a busy day as they rush to process several-hundred pages of new legislation and deliver budget bills to the governor's office. In the final hours of the special session, lawmakers pushed through measures to fund transportation, health and human services, state agencies, and long-term capital investments.

"I don't believe that if we had ended the session on May 21st that we would have gotten the historic, significant, landmark property-tax package," said House Speaker Steve Sviggum. "I think we end up with, actually, in some areas, a better product than we had on May 21."

Sviggum says the defining issue of the session was a dramatic overhaul of the state property-tax system that will reduce property taxes nearly 25 percent for homes and apartments and roughly 10 percent for businesses and cabins.

The deep tax cuts left little room for increased spending. During the transportation funding debate, several lawmakers complained about the lack of new investments in state roads and transit.

Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe wondered whether the Legislature's work reflects the values of Minnesota's residents. "I don't think Minnesotans have changed. I think some people here in the Legislature have changed. I still believe that the agenda that the Senate Democrats advanced, which was a balanced approach, (is) where most Minnesotans are. And we'll have to do a better job of getting our message out," Moe said.

Moe and Senate Democrats had hoped for additional spending on K-12 and higher education, but found themselves outnumbered by Ventura and House Republicans. DFLers prevailed on some key issues in the health and human services bill, including an expansion of children's health-care coverage. The governor supported that initiative.

But Ventura and the Senate were unable to grant a welfare extension beyond the current five-year limit to as many families as they had hoped. And a teen-pregnancy prevention program became a casualty of abortion politics, dropped in a compromise that also resulted in an elimination of a provision requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in Minnesota.

Finance Commissioner Pam Wheelock says the governor will be pleased that the property-tax reforms he proposed were adopted almost entirely. "Certainly the House, the Senate, and the executive branch all left some issues on there to talk about in future legislative sessions. But I think there can't be any doubt in our minds that this was a very successful session for the governor," she said.

The governor also persuaded lawmakers to drop an attempt to classify him and other constitutional officers as state employees. In a move that upset many legislators, the administration sent a letter late Friday night, warning that if the provision weren't dropped from the state government finance bill, it would "jeopardize the entire bill." Lawmakers conceded the point before passing the bill.

The spending measures, along with a modest bonding bill, are now en route to Ventura's desk, but some legislative leaders worry processing the new budget might spill past Saturday night's deadline. Wheelock says it's too soon to know if the budget will be complete when the clock runs out.

"It depends on how the afternoon materializes or develops. We've had some conversations with the revisor and I think we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to receive the legislation and to make decisions and resolve it before midnight," she said.

If not, lawmakers approved a stopgap measure that would continue current funding levels for another week. Wheelock, however, says she's concerned about the constitutionality of that option. The administration can also rely on a state judge's order that authorizes funding for core services until the budget works its way into law.