Session gets no DFL praise

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 3, 2001

About the 2001 Minnesota Legislature’s special session: "It was the best of times.

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

About the 2001 Minnesota Legislature’s special session: "It was the best of times."

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No, wait. That’s what the Minnesota GOP is expected to say. Monday’s visit to Austin was by the House DFL Caucus. The mantra heard at an Austin Public Library news conference by the Democrats sounded more like "It was the worst of times."

About the only praise from the House DFLers was the session ended Saturday without a government shutdown and provided Minnesotans with a major tax cut for the fifth year in a row.

Otherwise, the DFLers had nothing good to say about the 2001 session.

"We came closer to achieving the balanced approach Democrats advocated from the start," House DFL leader Tom Pugh of South St. Paul said.

"Tax rebate checks will be going out as promised," Pugh said. "And even though the overall size of the tax cut is less, the tax reductions are fairer overall. Most importantly, we avoided the disaster of a government shutdown."

But Pugh and other House DFL Caucus members with him said what was left undone does not bode well for Minnesotans.

"We are still going to see a lot of cutting and layoffs by schools, we are still going to see huge college tuition increases, we will still see waiting lists for child care, we will still have potholes and congestion and we didn’t find solutions to the problems of high prescription drug prices, the farm crisis or the desperate shortage of qualified health-care workers," Pugh said, not stopping until he ran out of things to say.

Assistant DFL Leader Margaret Anderson-Kelliher of Minneapolis likened the special session to a baseball game that went into extra innings.

"For every winner there is a loser and it’s kids this time," the state representative said. "We have 40,000 kids in Minnesota who are uninjured and we are only able to insure 20,000 of them.

"People will be waiting in lines, while others are going to rush to the front of the line," said Anderson-Kelliher.

Austin’s Rob Leighton lamented the plight of education, which, the state representative said, "will get no new money and less than the rate of inflation in some cases."

Leighton did find something positive in the session for Austin: $2 million in flood mitigation monies from the state.

State Rep. Gene Pelowski of Winona blamed Gov. Jesse Ventura for the special session.

"The governor’s budget was so inadequate when originally presented in February, it took an extra month just to fix it," Pelowski said. "We had to make sure those things were corrected before we went home."

Pelowski said the anticipated double-digit tuition hikes at state colleges and universities coupled with teacher layoffs are "now way to train or retrain a work force."

Rep. Ted Winter of Fulda admitted, "We knew there would be problems from the git-go" when House Majority Leader Steve Sviggum of Kenyon made promises of major property tax relief to the business community.

"Hormel Foods will pay less," Winter said. "Homeowners, particularly the low-valued and mid-valued homeowners, will pay more in property taxes. Swift Foods will pay less at Worthington and the homeowners there will pay more."

Pugh said two of every three school districts in the state are poised to make staff reductions, because of an inadequate Higher Education Bill, and all school districts will not be able to replace outdated textbooks and other necessities of the school day.

No matter what others say about the Legislature’s education spending, Pugh observed, "I don’t think its good news for education to put any spin on it."

Pelowski said school districts, like Rushford-Peterson, Houston and his own Winona, facing statutory operating debt status will be further handicapped by finance bills that are, in his words, partisan and cobbled together."

Last year, the Legislature came within one day – 119 total – of the maximum allowed by the state Constitution to remain in session. This year, it was within hours of the Constitution’s deadline for adjournment.

The House DFLers said their party will work this summer to seek Minnesotans’ input to bring in proposals to address the long list of unfinished business of the special session.

"In the coming year, as in the past, Democrats will look to the future and propose solutions that address the urgent needs of families, working Minnesotans, seniors and children," Pugh said. "We’ll all enjoy our tax cut, but at some point, we have to start taking care of real family needs."

Call Lee Bonorden at 434-2232 or e-mail him at