Opening Day

The Legislature opens its session today. MPR’s Midday will broadcast live from the Capitol. Several dozen “players” will be stopping by to talk to Gary Eichten. I’ll be live-blogging and counting the number of times promises of “bipartisanship” are uttered. As you probably know, the promises are almost always broken.

Update 10:42 a.m. – Just as an aside, I had a conversation with a friend today who is relatively high ranking in one state agency who said, “we’re already planning for a special session.”

Live-blogging

MPR political editor and long-time Capitol reporter Mike Mulcahy is joining Eichten at the broadcast table. I’ll be highlighting the major points of each guest. Feel free to comment.

Pam Wheelock, former finance commissioner for Jesse Ventura is also on the panel.

11:08 a.m. – Wheelock expects the budget deficit to be worse than November’s forecast. How much worse?

11:10 a.m. House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelleher.

Gary asked her if a lot of people are going to be hurt by what happens at the Legislature this year, but Kelleher didn’t bite. She talked about a “balanced” approach to the session. “We open to working with the governor but the governor who seems to be the one person who says not everything is on the table.” We’re off and running with the first shot of the day.

What can be done on health care besides “lopping them off the programs?” Gary asked.

“These costs are going up… because people are outliving their resources.”

11:16 a.m. – Finance committee chairmen Rep. Lyndon Carlson and Sen. Dick Cohen.

Gary asked if there’s anything that is off the table in the budget cutting. Cohen said “no,” without actually saying “no.” Carlson said he wouldn’t say there’s “fat” in government but said the Legislature will set priorities. Specifics anyone? Not so far.

11:22 a.m. Rep. Mindy Greiling/Sen. David Hann

Greiling says K-12 advocates shouldn’t worry about cuts but says “treading water isn’t good enough.” Hann says “it’s a challenge” to not cut K-12. “We’re looking for ways to do things more efficiently.” . Eichten asks for one example of doing something differently in K-12. Hann says restoring a larger measure of the ability to manage what we do to the local level. “We put a lot of mandates, we should give the local school boards more latitude.”

Greiling says paying teachers less and giving school boards the power to do that isn’t the answer. She suggests parks and rec departments “work closely” with the schools, which is a way of asking whether schools should be doing athletics to the current degree.

Are graduation standards going to be relaxed because seniors may not graduate? “It’s not acceptable to have two-thirds of the seniors not graduate,” says Greiling. Hann agrees.

Should local school boards have more power to depart from state mandates?
( polls)

11:34 – Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller

He doesn’t think there’ll be a lot of new ideas during the session, just action on things that have been talked about before. He says there’s no area of the budget where there’s “a big chunk” of frivolous spending in areas that aren’t crucial to the state. He says the working relationship with Gov. Pawlenty is good and he doesn’t see a big battle over taxes.

He says the task should be broken up into smaller pieces so there isn’t a big showdown at the end of the session.

11:41 a.m. Sen. Ellen Anderson and Rep. Jean Wagenius

(Environment)

Wagenius says the most important thing is to make sure citizens know how the new sales tax money is spent on environmental issues. Anderson says the money will not be “stolen” to balance the budget.

“Tough to do that if Grandma is getting kicked out of the nursing home, isn’t it?” Gary asked. Any cuts to the environment need to be equal to other cuts in other areas, Anderson said, which didn’t really answer the question, did it?

Anderson says there should be a cabinet position for energy and environment rather than Pollution Control Agency.

11:47 a.m. Rep. Jenifer Loon and Sen. Ken Keelsh (rookies)

Loon has a perfect name for campaign signs in Minnesota. They both said they’re happy to be there.

11:48 a.m. Rep. Marty Seifert (House Minority Leader)

The budget will dominate the session. It’s an opportunity to “rightsize” government. What area can save a lot of money? “For us it’s a challenge that most of the budget is healtha and human services, K-12, local government aid and which of those do you want to touch?” Well, yes, that was the question. What’s the answer? “We’re going to have to look at what other states are doing.” In the past, Gov. Pawlenty has pointed to Iowa or Wisconsin in cutting health care. So I’ll take that as Seifert’s answer: health care.

Will there be cooperation or deeper divisions? “It depends on the approach we take,” said Seifert. He hated the 2007 session but liked the approach in 2008 when Republicans were brought into the discussions.

11:53 a.m. Rep. Alice Hausman and Rep. Morrie Lanning (Bonding)

There may be a bonding bill this year for capital projects. Hausman says a bonding bill depends on what sort of federal “stimulus” programs are released and whether they involve matching money from states. Lanning says Republicans will take a “cautious approach” to a bonding bill. Translation: Not bloody likely.

Vikings stadium:

“Off the table,” says Hausman. “Out of the question,” says Lanning.

Schedule the funeral. The stadium is dead.

12:07 p.m. Usually around this time we get a demonstration by the Welfare Rights Coalition, but so far it’s pretty quiet at the Capitol.

 

12:09 p.m. Tom Hanson, the governor’s budget boss

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He says the new budget will address “needs in K-12″ but involve cuts. He says taxes won’t be raised and when pressed whether local governments would have to raise taxes, he repeated Gov. Pawlenty’s mantra that that’s their decision.

Asked about the sales tax and restructuring it, he said “we’ll have to see.” He denied that was a “yes” but it clearly wasn’t a “no.”

Should the sales tax in Minnesota be expanded (food, for example)?
( polls)

12:14 p.m. Dan McElroy, commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development

We’ve lost 36,000 jobs related to single-family home construction. Without that, employment would be up. Pogemiller recommended a “reappraisal” of the department, McElroy thinks it’s a bad idea.

12:18 p.m. Sen. Tarryl Clark, Asst. Sen. Majority Leader

Says the people of the state have to “come together.” Aside: There’s a woeful lack of specifics coming from these people today.

How does the state lay the groundwork for education without dramatically increasing the budget? Clark says early childhood education is the answer. She says raising test scores doesn’t need new money, “it requires us to work closer with our teachers,” she said. “It’s a real challenge,” to see how the governor will balance the budget without new taxes.

Good point by Mulcahy, the 2010 election for governor is going to affect the session. Remember the 2006 election. Candidates for governor who were in the House of Representatives and Senate were gumming up debate.

12:29 p.m. Sen. Linda Berglin and Rep. Jim Abeler (Health care)

Berglin says it’s not a good time to be cutting health care. “It’s a time for the government to be there for them.”

Abeler says there’s going to “be changes.” He says it’s a time of opportunity to “clean house on some programs.” He says it’s going to be a very painful session for everybody.

Home-visiting programs were identified as a place to cut. “For some people it’s a nuisance,” he says.

Berglin says a program for developmentally disabled needs to be restructured.

Is there any reason for people to be optimistic that we’ll be “ahead of the health care issue in this country?” Neither answered the question directly.

I think that’s it for the guests.

Did anybody notice who was missing from the discussion?