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Andrew Tellijohn and Don Davis, State Capitol Bureau, Published May 13 2010

Pawlenty vetoes Democratic health care bill; both sides say it could rise again

ST. PAUL - A Democratic health care bill met Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's veto pen today, but both sides say it could arise again in the legislative session's final days.

Pawlenty said Democrats who control the Legislature ignored his administration's wishes and did not meet with his staff before debate began on the measure.

However, he said, provisions in the bill that would help poor and disabled Minnesotans receive health care could be part of the overall budget talks.

House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, said the bill would have created 21,000 jobs and brought in $1.4 billion of federal funds.

Pawlenty, Kelliher and other state leaders said overall budget talks took on a more positive tone Wednesday, but no new meeting were held by early afternoon today.

Overall talks are about how to fill a nearly $3 billion state budget deficit.

Lower-level talks were held on the health and human services bill Wednesday night, even as the House and Senate debated the measure.

"It's important to us that they are having discussions," Kelliher said. "That had not really happened previously. ... There are portions of the budget that can be solved in that health and human services bill."

The bill would cut $114 million from the $3 billion budget deficit still facing lawmakers as the session heads into its final few days.

Legislative leaders say by adding $189 million in state funding to the $1.2 billion already committed to covering 82,000 Minnesotans over the next three years, the state would receive $1.4 billion in federal funds, and be able to cover more people.

Those insurees would be moved to Medicaid.

"We think this is such an important piece going forward for Minnesota," she said. "It really helps our rural hospitals and clinics that are harmed by the governor's repeated cuts."

Kelliher kept open the option of attempting to override Pawlenty's veto.

House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said Democrats' three priorities are ensuring there is a way to pay back any borrowing done from schools, protecting Minnesotans from tax increases and finding health care agreement on health care.

"It's Minnesota being able to take advantage of the federal health care reform and bring our tax dollars back to Minnesota," he said. "That's very helpful and important to us."

Pawlenty said he is open to many of the health bill provisions, but does not like surcharges placed on some health-related spending.

The governor suggested that the Legislature ratify most of his budget cuts from last summer, cuts that the state Supreme Court last week said were illegal when he made them without legislative support.