Leg. begins passing budget bills

Gov. Mark Dayton has threatened to veto individual GOP budget bills.

by Michael Zittlow

The Minnesota Legislature began debate on the RepublicansâÄô budget Monday, raising partisan tensions at the start of a busy week that will see many of the budget bills âÄî including higher educationâÄôs âÄî put to a vote.
As the Republicans pushed their bills through to meet self-imposed deadlines, Gov. Mark Dayton warned in a letter that he would not accept pieces of a budget until a full spending bill is agreed on. He also said he would not consider spending bills that contain policy items.
DaytonâÄôs letter, which he sent to Republican leaders Monday, comes as Republicans work to get their bills âÄìâÄì which look to eliminate the stateâÄôs $5 billion deficit âÄî through the Senate and House by the end of the week.
Before the Senate passed its first bill Monday, Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said the Legislature was about to embark on passing a budget that spends more money from its general fund âÄî $34.3 billion âÄî than any other in the history of the state.
Cohen said this money would fall on the backs of taxpayers. He said it goes directly against campaign promises that helped the Republicans claim the majority in the House and Senate.
âÄúRhetoric during the campaign is easy,âÄù Cohen said, adding that Republicans are now finding it challenging to keep their promises.
Sen. Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said that the Republicans have done the best they could without federal money granted in the past. He also challenged CohenâÄôs claims about overspending, saying that previously the DFL had criticized the budget as a âÄúbarbaric, all cutsâÄù budget.
âÄúIf the minority plans on proposing a budget, we will take that up,âÄù Michel said.
Across the hall in the House chambers, legislators debated the effect of cutting state aid to cities, which is included in the RepublicansâÄô tax budget bill.
The billâÄôs cuts to local government aid for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth and its reduced aid to other cities jeopardizes the program, which looks to provide basic government services to communities with low tax bases, Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said.
He pointed out that the House Taxes CommitteeâÄôs chairwoman, Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, had been quoted as saying the bill is an attempt to begin to âÄúphase outâÄù local government aid.
But Runbeck said the bill only attempts to save money by phasing out local government aid for large cities that donâÄôt need it.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said itâÄôs unfair to ask some cities to pay taxes that go to other communities. She also said only about 50 percent of cities in Minnesota receive local government aid.
But Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, quickly stepped in to correct Anderson.
âÄúThatâÄôs not accurate,âÄù she said. âÄúOf 844 cities, 763 receive local government aid. ThatâÄôs OK if we have the argument, but letâÄôs get the facts right.âÄù
Lenczewski alleged the cities chosen for local government aid reductions were selected by Republicans for political reasons.
âÄúI think itâÄôs disingenuous to say, âÄòJust because I donâÄôt get it, letâÄôs abolish it,âÄôâÄù Lenczewski said of representatives who are from districts that donâÄôt receive local government aid and are looking to reduce it.
She said property taxes would surely go up with the absence of state aid.
The tax bill also cuts statewide business property taxes, another move DFL representatives said would force a rise in property taxes. Republicans said it would make Minnesota more welcoming to business.
DFL lawmakers pushed their stance that the tax bill favored big corporations, not local businesses. DFL amendments to the tax bill that would have limited property tax rises were shot down.
The Senate passed spending bills for agriculture and job creation Monday. Higher education and human services budget bills are expected to make their way to the Senate and House floors by the end of the week.
After budget bills are passed through the entire House and Senate, the two bodies meet in small conference committees to hash out one bill to be approved by both chambers. The governor would likely veto the budget bills as they are written.
The Legislature has until May 23 to settle on a budget that is approved by both the Republican-majority Legislature and the governor.