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At the end, notes of blame

A Republican state senator said DFL leaders wanted a government shutdown to use to their advantage in the 2012 election. A Democratic state House member said the GOP refused to compromise.

Those charges were among the critiques offered by area lawmakers as Minnesota’s 20-day government shutdown and special legislative session came to a close Wednesday.

Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji, reluctantly supported the budget bills that were part of an overall agreement between GOP leaders and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton because of the importance of ending the shutdown.

“In the art of compromise you have to accept some things you don’t like,” Carlson said. “Once our leaders reached an agreement with the governor  then I felt it was my responsibility to uphold that agreement.”

The first-term senator, whose District 4 stretches into northern Crow Wing County, said the framework of the final deal was offered by Republicans on June 30, the final day before the government shutdown. He said Republican lawmakers were at the Capitol in anticipation that a deal would be brokered at the last minute. He said his opinion is that Democratic leaders convinced Dayton to reject the deal so they could have a government shutdown, blame the Republicans and use it to their advantage in the 2012 elections.

“There wasn’t a Democrat (other than the leaders) to be seen at the Capitol that night (June 30),” Carlson said.

Carlson said he wanted to see the state do a better job of funding higher education and he also wanted restrictions on cloning that he had hoped would be a part of that bill. 

“That was a very hard vote for me,” he said of his support of the higher education bill. “That was a vote to keep the state open.”

Carlson said he’d favor an idea he heard Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, mention in which state budgets would automatically continue at the same level until the new budget is passed and signed.

“We cannot go down this road again,” he said.

Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, voted against the eight finance bills because he has consistently called for progressive revenue, cuts, reform and redesign of state services and revenue shifts, even though he disliked shifts.

In a statement, he labeled the budget agreement as a “beg-borrow-and-steal budget.” He said that greatly increasing the school shift and issuing general appropriation bonds backed by future tobacco settlement money was the height of fiscal irresponsibility. Ward said Republicans were more interested in stealing from our children and borrowing against our future than asking 7,700 millionaires to pay their fair share.

“I salute the governor for staying with compromise after compromise,” Ward said. “He accepted what he didn’t really want to accept. I give him credit for putting the citizens and state of Minnesota ahead of politics.”

He blamed the shutdown on the Republicans’ failure to compromise. 

“When one side is the only side doing all the compromising, it’s not very likely a solution is going to happen,” Ward said. “The negotiating process works as long as everybody is participating, everybody is compromising and everybody is bargaining in good faith.”

He objected to the state’s borrowing money instead of seeking a long-term solution.

Ward did vote for the omnibus public employee retirement bill, the Legacy bill and the bonding bill because they did not rely on “borrow and spend” money and they were more bipartisan in nature.

He singled out Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, chair of the bonding committee, for seeking help from the minority members and crafting a bipartisan bill.

“The best thing about this is the government shutdown is done,” Ward said.

Howes voted for the budget bills that had been agreed upon by his party’s leaders and the governor. He said he was hopeful that if the economy improves enough the state could see a surplus in two years.

He said the bonding bill focused on repairing state assets such as boilers and roofs and various MnSCU projects. He said the projects were 75 to 85 percent shovel ready and predicted that all the bonds could be let by fall.

“Union workers, they love this bill,” he said. “They know it’s going to put, modestly, 8,000 to work by fall.”

Rep. Mike LeMieur, R-Little Falls, supported the budget bills and the bonding bill. 

“The final budget deal — nobody was completely happy,” LeMieur said. “I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad 22,000 people can get back to work.”

The freshman representative said the framework of the budget agreement was the same as the offer Republicans made the day before the shutdown. He said the governor didn’t want to sign that agreement but later came back after a tour of the state and insisted that a Republican call for a 15 percent reduction in the state work force be dropped.

LeMieur said the record the Legislature achieved of having the longest state government shutdown was no honor.

Gazelka released a statement highlighting reforms in the 2011 budget bills. Among them were a reduction in projected spending in the next biennium of $2.5 billion; removal of the Jan. 15 contract negotiation deadline for schools; the consolidation of all state agency IT departments into one; and the phase out of the 2 percent health care provider tax.

Gazelka said that he was disappointed with the shutdown but it was important to move the state onto a sustainable path for a longer-term future.

“We made genuine, significant reform and we did not raise taxes,” he said in a statement.

MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at or 855-5860.