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Politicians spin 2006 legislative results

ST. PAUL -- Legislators have spent their time since adjourning for the year patting themselves on the back after a marathon Saturday-Sunday session.

Was it a successful legislative session? "Extremely so," said Senate Majority leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar. "It was very productive," added House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon.

Leaders of both major parties agree the successes include a public works funding bill a few coins short of $1 billion, adding money to sex offender treatment programs, approving two sports stadiums and adjusting income tax laws to help middle-class Minnesotans.

They downplayed legislative failures, or just blamed the other party.

In a Monday Moorhead stop -- part of a 10-city, two-day tour promoting the Legislature's results -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the session was "one of the smoothest and productive legislative sessions in a number of years," but he added, "not everything we wanted to get done did" get done.

Prime among the failures was not finding a way to reduce property taxes, which was a priority for nearly every legislator and Pawlenty.

"We had different ideas on how we should get there," Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said, adding that property taxes will be an issue again next year.

Politicians took to cars and airplanes Monday morning, a few hours after lawmakers adjourned their 2006 session, to tell the legislative story with their own particular spin.

The House ended for the year at about 10 p.m. Sunday, with the Senate following an hour later. Legislators needed a little extra time Sunday because a budget adjustment bill was not finished by the time they expected to leave Sunday morning.

One of the biggest accomplishments of the session was not a bill; it was an attitude.

"It is going to be noted for a return to relative civility," Pawlenty said.

The 2004 session ended with few significant bills passing because of deep partisan bickering.

In 2005, divisions remained and legislators allowed a partial state government shutdown when they could not finish their budget on time.

Voters were not happy with those outcomes.

"The fact that the Legislature worked together shows that the folks back home do have a say in what happens down here," Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.

As the session ended, attention turned to political campaigns. All 201 legislative seats are up for election.

House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, blamed House Republican leaders for missing a chance to help education, health care and transportation. He said too much attention was spent on approving Twins baseball and University of Minnesota football stadiums.

"We need a new direction and new leadership to move the state forward," Entenza said before leaving the Capitol.

Lanning hosted GOP Reps. Laura Brod of New Prague and House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie at the Moorhead Airport. Paulsen said the session produced "big wins" for the environment, including passage of a bill requiring the state's three largest coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent.

"In a short session, we got a heck of a lot done," agreed Brod, who said paring down nearly $3 billion in funding public works construction project requests "is a tough job."

Lanning said western Minnesota did very well in this year's public works bill. "We got almost everything we asked for in our area."

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.