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Legislators override budget veto, wrap up session at sunrise

ST. PAUL -- Money issues split Democrats and Republicans during the nearly four months of this year's legislative session, and fiscal bills were among the last to pass Sunday.

ST. PAUL -- Money issues split Democrats and Republicans during the nearly four months of this year's legislative session, and fiscal bills were among the last to pass Sunday.

Budget work that ended on the last long working day of the session helped prevent significant cuts to schools, local governments and nursing homes, Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said. A bill that finished balancing a $2.4 billion state deficit inflicted "the least amount of pain possible," Moe said.

"More importantly," added House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, "we did it without adding an extra burden on working families."

The major work on the 2002 legislative session wrapped up as the sun rose Sunday morning. Rays of the bright light crept into the House chamber, causing weary representatives to squint as they finished their year's work.

The House adjourned at 5:45 a.m., the Senate 27 minutes later.

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Long periods of inactivity, while lawmakers waited for key bills to be completed, sent some senators into a back room for shut-eye, while many representatives snoozed in the House chamber.

At times, senators had to be awakened to cast votes.

House members stayed around after adjournment to honor 21 retiring members, then headed home.

Senators return this morning for their ceremonial closing session, which will honor colleagues who are leaving the chamber.

By adjourning when they did, lawmakers avoided being in an official Sunday session. A legislative day begins at 7 a.m., and many lawmakers did not want to be seen working on Sunday.

Before legislators finished their 82nd two-year session, they overturned a budget-balancing bill veto, passed history's second-largest construction project funding bill, approved state financing for a baseball stadium and accepted a watered-down anti-terrorism bill.

Legislators said their only real requirement in 2002 was to balance the state budget, thrown into the red by an economic downturn made worse by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers came to St. Paul in late January facing a $1.95 billion budget deficit. On Feb. 19, they announced they would take care of most of the problem by spending almost all the money the state had in the bank.

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A few days later, the budget hole grew to $2.4 billion, and lawmakers spent the rest of the session haggling over how to fill the new gap.

They agreed last week -- mostly by delaying state payments to schools and counties -- and came together late Saturday to override Gov. Jesse Ventura's veto of what he called an irresponsible budget plan.

"I do not want my fingerprints on it in any way, shape or form," Ventura said. "Now the Legislature will be responsible for it."

Despite Ventura's words and the months-long history of fiscal disputes, almost nothing was said on the House and Senate floors as lawmakers re-passed the budget-balancing bill, the 11th Ventura veto override. The House overrode the veto 95-38, followed by a 53-14 vote in the Senate.

Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, sponsor of the budget bill, said he was surprised no one debated the measure. But they did debate the other big money bill.

A measure providing $976.5 million for construction projects across the state -- with $880 million funded by selling bonds -- inspired the most debate in the Legislature's 15-hour last working day.

Most of the arguments were over Ventura's pet project, a commuter rail line between St. Cloud and Minneapolis. He wanted $120 million for it, but his aides last week said they would accept $50 million. He got nothing.

The House passed the bill 102-31; it was 51-13 in the Senate. The bonding bill funds projects ranging from civic centers to university science buildings, from new parks to a trash incinerator. However, Ventura threatens to veto at least 71 projects worth more than $240 million, and he said the hit list may get longer.

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"If you're from rural Minnesota, you hardly get a wink," Rep. Bob Ness, R-Dassel, said.

But others disagreed.

"Under the circumstances, this is a very good bill," said Sen. Cal Larson, R-Fergus Falls.

The House wanted to spend $836 million, while the Senate proposed nearly $1.2 billion when negotiations began weeks ago.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, said one of the big problems in working out a bill was that House negotiators had to keep checking in with their leaders.

"The leadership of the Senate allows us to negotiate..." the Senate bonding chairman said. "They other side was constantly gong back to their side to see what they could do and what they couldn't do."

Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707

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