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State legislative session likely won't end pretty

Minnesotans won't know the end result of last week's Minnesota Legislature session end, but when they do, it won't be pretty.

In a most unusual display of democracy-turned-imperialism, Gov. Tim Pawlenty essentially dismissed the Legislature when it would not fully agree with his efforts to balance the state budget for the next two years.

Steadfastly refusing any new taxes, the governor vetoed several times bills that would have raised income taxes on the wealthy and taxes on alcohol and cigarettes to the tune of about $1 billion. He has already line-item vetoed nearly $400 million in human services spending that will prevent the most destitute among us from seeking medical care. Instead, they will go to emergency rooms and create an even higher public bill through care there - or saddle hospitals with an even higher level of uncompensated care. That move alone could cost St. Joseph's Area Health Services millions.

The governor is now contemplating unallotments, or withdrawal of state funds, in a number of areas, most notably state aid to cities.

The governor's response that cities can use their plush reserves falls on deaf ears. Many cities don't have that level of reserves, and reserves are in essence cash flow accounts since they receive revenues only twice a year.

That Republicans in the House stayed lockstep with the governor shows that they too don't realize the impact of pending cuts. When libraries in their districts close, when nursing homes close and their elder relatives moved to facilities an hour or two away, or when their house is on fire and it takes a slimmed-down Fire Department tens of minutes instead of minutes to respond, they may have wished to override the tax bill.

When will Minnesota reach the bottom line of trimming state spending before digging into the meat of essential services? That point, we believe, will come soon if it hasn't already.

The Democrat-led Legislature is not without fault, either. DFL leaders knew the GOP governor's stance on taxes and should have presented a budget a lot sooner than the final week of the session and expect a negotiated settlement. They took time to travel the state on a "listening tour" which they knew would not sway the governor's mind.

A special legislative commission to go head-to-toe with administration officials on the budget didn't sway the governor either. In fact, he called it a do-nothing panel that took no positions, made no decisions.

But then again, all that the Legislature might have done may not have mattered in the imperial governorship into which we seem to have evolved.