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MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE: House upholds health, tax vetoes

ST. PAUL - Money talk became emotional Sunday as Minnesota representatives sustained two vetoes - one that ends a health program for the state's poorest and sickest residents and the other that would have raised taxes $1 billion.

ST. PAUL - Money talk became emotional Sunday as Minnesota representatives sustained two vetoes - one that ends a health program for the state's poorest and sickest residents and the other that would have raised taxes $1 billion.

With the Legislature facing a midnight deadline Monday night for adjourning, the House votes cement Gov. Tim Pawlenty's position that he will cut state programs on his own to balance the state budget. There were no signs late Sunday that any overall budget deal was forthcoming.

Tears were plentiful in a hushed House chamber during touching stories of near-death and poverty-laced childhood experiences during debate on Pawlenty's $381 million veto of the General Assistance Medical Care program. The veto would eliminate the program in 2011, ending state-funded health care for up to 35,000 poor, childless adult Minnesotans.

The 87-47 House vote fell three short of the number needed for an override. Immediately after losing the health-care vote, Democrats who control the House moved on to the tax decision, which fell five votes short of an override, 85-49. In both cases, only Democrats voted to overturn the vetoes.

Pawlenty's line-item GAMC veto was his biggest cut in what could end up being Minnesota's largest-ever budget-cutting exercise. If Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Pawlenty do not reach a budget deal tonight, the governor says he will cut budgets on his own.


The Legislature sent Pawlenty spending bills totaling $34 billion for the budget, when tax collections only are expected to reach $31 billion. With the GAMC and other cuts he already has made, Pawlenty still would need to cut more than $2.5 billion from the two-year budget beginning July 1.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said that people will die in the streets if they do not get medical and mental health care provided by GAMC.

However, Rep. Rob Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said Democrats in control of the Legislature give other items priority over health care for the poor.

"We are willing to build hockey arenas and bike trails and dog parks over your needs," Hamilton said, talking to three GAMC recipients in the House gallery.

"You should be outraged," he said.

One of the recipients is Robert Fischer, a 13-year Duluth resident who at one time operated a successful Twin Cities suburban business. But Fischer told a rally urging the health-care override that he lost his business, then his home and then his health. He lived on the streets for three years.

Huntley said that GAMC recipients, who earn $7,800 a year or less, need state help.

"They don't sleep under the bridge because they are lazy, they sleep under a bridge because they have serious problems in their life," Huntley said.


After the health-care debate, the House remained divided over raising taxes.

Democrats said that the tax bill would provide $1 billion to help fill the gap between spending and available money. They said the revenue would help the state's economy.

"We've got tough times," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said, adding that a $1 billion tax increase is fair considering many programs will be cut.

Marquart, chairman of the House property taxes committee, said lawmakers need to compromise between not cutting programs and not raising taxes.

"Both sides cannot have their way," he said.

If Pawlenty is allowed to make unilateral cuts, he added, local governments face big cuts in state payments. Especially hard hit will be rural communities, he said.

Republicans, however, countered that raising taxes hurts the economy.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, complained about the state's budget process, and raises taxes does not help.


"What we need is major reform," Lanning said. "We are on a spending course in this state that is not sustainable."

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, said schools were supposed to get some of the money raised by new taxes, but the Legislature has done a good job providing for schools.

"I don't know what 'enough' is in education funding," Urdahl said.

The tax bill would raise income taxes on wealthy Minnesotans, increase alcohol taxes and place a new tax on credit card companies that charge more than 15 percent interest.

While representatives were in closed-door meetings before the veto debates, state union workers rallied outside the House chamber with "override" chants.

Democratic legislative leaders and Republican Pawlenty exchanged budget offers late Saturday and early Sunday, but there was no obvious activity toward a budget deal most of Sunday.

Read more coverage in Monday's Forum

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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