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June 5, 2004
Kegger At Dean's, BYOB

The two major political parties have reached an agreement on opening a special legislative bacchanalia session to complete the work they left on the table when time ran out, or when the booze ran out, whichever came first. Governor Tim Pawlenty, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum met over some barbecuing brats at the Governor's mansion to reach an agreement on the agenda:

After a two-hour meeting featuring gubernatorially grilled brats and beans on the patio of the governor's residence on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said he will report by noon Tuesday on whether he can agree to some broad framework that would set the stage for a one- or two-day legislative session, possibly before the end of June.

The Legislature adjourned May 16, leaving unfinished its work on a major bonding bill for state borrowing and budget adjustments that would balance the state's finances in the current biennium and reduce a projected 2006-07 deficit. ... If there is agreement, the bills would be sequenced to keep any discussion about gay marriage off the agenda. If the issue comes up, it is likely that the Senate would adjourn, Johnson said.

So now that they've all decided what they won't discuss, what does that leave? Mostly just a bonding bill, which means pork, and lots of it. Pawlenty could have solved the microscopic ($160M) budget defecit through executive orders. Instead, we'll probably spend a significant portion of that just in reopening the Legislature, paying the salary and per-diems for all 201 members for the two official days, plus travel expenses, and more for those who attend pre-session, agenda-setting meetings. To give you an idea of how much that can rack up, Dean Johnson (DFL), the Senate majority leader, scored $25,000 in per diems and expenses in 2003, for what's supposed to be a part-time job.

And why are we paying these public servants to come back during the summer? Mainly, they couldn't get the job done during the normal legislative session, in part because the end of the last session dissolved into a Lost Weekend of booze and lobbyists:

Late at night, in the closing days of the legislative session, lobbyists, state workers and even some lawmakers gathered in offices at the State Capitol to drink beer, wine and liquor, KMSP-TV reported Wednesday night. The station showed trash cans full of beer, wine and liquor bottles and suggested that at least some the alcohol of might have been provided by lobbyists. Lobbyists are not allowed to give gifts to legislators. ...

The station said it also saw lobbyists, state workers and lawmakers drinking in the office of Senate President James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul. KMSP said it never saw Metzen drinking, and that he did not respond to requests for comment, but Rep. Scott Wasiluk, DFL-Maplewood, came over to his office while the House was in a late-night session.

"I came to raid your whisky,'' Wasiluk said.

"That's what it's there for,'' Metzen replied.

The station showed Wasiluk back on the House floor for a vote on a health care issue, looking sleepy. It also showed him at another point misunderstanding what was taking place on the floor as he monitored the session on TV from Metzen's office.

Before the citizens of Minnesota are asked to pay for another toga party, Pawlenty and the leadership of both houses of the legislature should apologize for their miserable failure to conclude the state's business on time and pledge an independent investigation into all of the booze provided by lobbyists in the DFL's offices while the Senate was in session. Next, they should agree to accept no compensation -- salary, per diem, or expenses -- for this special session. Only then should we allow them back into the chambers.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 5, 2004 8:09 AM

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