Analysis: Winners and losers? Try losers and more losers in budget fight

7:25 AM, Jul 3, 2005   |    comments
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An AP News Analysis by Patrick Condon, Associated Press Writer The onset of a partial government shutdown shook up the political dynamic at the Capitol, but one constant will remain at the forefront -- the raw partisanship that's increasingly characterized business at the Legislature. Last year, political wrangling between Democrats and Republicans resulted in a legislative session with no real accomplishments. This year was supposed to be different, kicking off with promises of a new civility and even a well-attended seminar that aimed to teach lawmakers how to get along better. Six months later they limped into the end of the state's fiscal year without a completed budget for the next two years, prompting a partial government shutdown that's the most striking symbol yet of perpetual gridlock. Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, dubbed it "the great ugliness of 2005." "This is devastating, this is embarrassing, this is something we will never be able to forget," Ortman said. "It will haunt us for years to come." When talks between Gov. Tim Pawlenty and legislative leaders broke down hours before the shutdown, the finger-pointing that ensued seemed depressingly familiar to many Capitol veterans. The hours that both preceded and followed the breakdown saw tempers rise in both the House and the Senate. "It didn't use to be like this," said Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, wincing when one of his colleagues directly called another a liar during a floor speech. "Everyone used to get along." Lawmakers still have a job that needs to be done. Unlike in 2004, this year the state constitution requires that a budget for the next two years be set. While the partisan rancor is certain to remain a factor, the reality of the government shutdown is likely to trigger a shift in some key circumstances: PAWLENTY EMBOLDENED
In the last few days of negotiations, the governor gave up major ground toward meeting numerous Democratic demands. Angered by the DFL's decision to abandon talks hours before the shutdown, Pawlenty said all the offers he made are now off the table. The governor's allies indicated further that Pawlenty may play a less direct role as lawmakers try to hash out a deal. "I think the governor is going to step back for a little bit and let his staff, his people do the initial negotiation," said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. DEMOCRATIC SECOND-GUESSING
The surprise decision by Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson to adjourn the Senate a few hours before midnight, when a deal looked close, was roundly criticized the next day, even by some traditional Democratic allies. Johnson himself, while defending the maneuver, was expressing hope that it wouldn't slow the pace of further work. "Yesterday was yesterday," Johnson said. "Today is today." But Democrats could come to regret spurning Pawlenty's offer granting many of their demands -- he's not likely to go that far again, and can be expected to now renew his call for government reforms that many Democrats find distasteful. MUTINY FROM THE MIDDLE
Many moderate Democrats and Republicans, who aren't part of the leadership, have grown increasingly agitated by the slow pace and political posturing that have characterized talks so far. Several so-called "rump groups" of legislators from both parties have been meeting in recent weeks in an attempt to find common ground on budget issues. One group of 20 such legislators has floated a compromise budget plan, and members vowed to press forward in the coming days, circumventing the leadership if necessary. "We're just trying to help," said Sen. Steve Kelley, DFL-Hopkins. POX ON ALL HOUSES
Most lawmakers will acknowledge that in the end, the shutdown and the politics that led to it make everyone look bad, regardless of party affiliation. "I think that no matter what happens, no matter what the outcome is, that the blame game doesn't work," Sviggum said. "Everyone gets blamed." Whether the public remembers all this 18 months from now, in the November 2006 election, is another question. Republicans charge that Democrats wanted the shutdown in order to embarrass Pawlenty, and it's easy to imagine TV ads reminding voters that he was the first governor in the state's history to preside over a government shutdown. But Democrats face political risks too. Leaders of the unions that represent state workers who face layoffs in the shutdown are furious over the situation, and if they perceive that Democrats aren't doing all they can to make it end, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party could alienate one of its most potent allies -- and sources of campaign funds. LOST TRUST
Perhaps the most lasting effect is the further chipping away of trust between the governor's office and lawmakers. Recent days have seen a volley of accusations from all corners that handshake deals were abandoned, that plans were afoot to circumvent negotiated deals and that actions were taken to leave political opponents in the dark. And not just trust between lawmakers. "It's not only here that the trust is lost," said Sen. Dave Kleis, R-St. Cloud. "The biggest tragedy here is the public doesn't trust this process."

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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