After days of intense discussions, bargaining and an eventual compromise, the legislative session drew to a close Monday after a brief special session.
And now that the budget has been balanced and signed, and this session of the legislature is ended, area state senators and representatives shared Tuesday what they consider to be the low and high points of this past session.
District 4 Sen. Mary Olson,
Olson voted against the budget bill. She told the Brainerd Dispatch that she was concerned about long-term financial problems created by the bill and was against the shift in payments to schools.
She was glad that the bill did not hurt nursing homes or state-operated services.
District 4B Rep. Larry Howes,
Given the challenges building through the latter part of the legislative session, all things considered, things went OK, Howes said Tuesday.
Legislators faced a budget deficit, controversy - and the ensuing court case - over the governor's 2009 unallotments, and recession.
Legislators and the governor ended a special session Monday with agreement on a budget-balancing bill that included ratifying many of the governor's unallotments and including a delay in aid payments to school districts.
However, the Legislature was unable to come to an agreement on a K-12 education bill before the session adjournment.
House Republicans said they had agreed with the governor not to address new legislation during the special session, which convened to address the budget bill.
"When you have an agreement on all things with the budget bill, and you add something in the end that's not part of the agreement, that negates the agreement," Howes said.
Howes said the Legislature ratifying some of the governor's unallotments was a good compromise.
"In the end, (the Democrats) took what he did as a compromise and I voted for it ... because I thought it was an agreement between the Republican governor and the Democrat-controlled Legislature and that the onus should be on all of us," he said.
The budget bill also gives the next governor the opportunity to opt-in to an expansion of Medicaid enrollment and a potential of $408 million in congressionally appropriated Medicaid match funds.
The agreement also includes a $10 million addition to fund General Assistance Medical Care.
District 12 Sen. Paul Koering
The budget was the main topic of discussion with Koering in terms of both what it was able to accomplish but where, he said, the budget fell short.
"I would say the high point to me was the passing of the bonding bill. We were getting down right to the very end and were struggling to come up with the solution right at the very end. I supported the compromise, and am happy we were able to come together," Koering said.
There were several area projects in the bonding bill, and Koering was happy he succeeded in having several projects in his district approved in the bill.
Those projects include the renovation of the troop fort facility at Camp Ripley as well as the completion for an emergency training facility.
Other projects included $3.3 million to build a new truck station in Little Falls for the Department of Transportation to replace the inadequate building it currently has.
Despite what Koering called successes in bringing projects to his district with the budget, he feels there is a very big problem with the budget.
Koering was disappointed that there was no permanent solutions made to the budget to try to adjust for future deficits.
"There was really no structural reform in the budget bill and no permanent reductions," he said.
"In essence this bill put off the inevitable to the next Legislature. We are looking at a $5.5 billion budget shortfall for the next biennium. The budget crises now is nothing to what we are going to have to face in the next biennium," Koering said.
District 12A Rep. John Ward,
"For the fourth year in a row we finished on time with a balanced budget. And I would deem that a huge success based on the hurdles and difficulties we were facing," Ward said Tuesday.
At a time when the economy is still in a downturn, when the Legislature learned 10 days before adjournment that the court deemed Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget unallotments illegal and when many legislators are running for office, Ward said he was grateful everyone came to the table and worked together.
Compromising means not everybody is overjoyed with the end result, but they are OK with it, Ward said.
"We had a result that was OK," he said.
He said legislators worked hard in those last 10 days, and in the first six weeks when they passed an early bonding bill to put jobs on the ground in Minnesota.
Legislators passed two jobs bills and the General Assistance Medical Care bill to take care of the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick.
"Those were three huge pieces that we got done early," Ward said.
And in the middle of the session, legislators worked hard for legislation for their districts. Ward cited Lyme disease work he introduced that made headway, as well as work to allow school buses not to have to add biodiesel in the winter months to avoid the possibility of fuel gelling and shutting down buses, which was important to area school districts.
He also cited bonding projects in parts of his district, and involvement in the Wausau Paper expansion in Brainerd as well as work with the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center, which an Indian tribe is interested in buying.
Ward was disappointed that there still was no long-term budget fix. In an economy where people are hurting and unemployment is high, it's important that the state do everything it can to retain or create jobs, he said.
"We need to look at redesigning and reforming government to make it run more efficiently and more effectively with transparent accountability to provide better results," Ward said, noting that approach must also include revenue in the long term.
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