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Broadband access, racial equity top Minn. Gov. Dayton's wish list

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton announces on Tuesday, March 15, 2016, a variety of budget increases that add up to $700 million. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL – Giving all Minnesotans equal access to high-speed Internet and promoting racial economic equality are Gov. Mark Dayton's top requests in seeking a $700 million budget boost.

Each would cost $100 million.

He also announced Tuesday that he wants to supplement a $42 billion, two-year budget he and lawmakers enacted a year ago with $77 million to expand pre-kindergarten programs, $46 million to protect state government's computer security, $56 million for state-run colleges and universities and $47 million to boost state funding to cities and counties.

He could cut taxes $117 million.

With a $900 million state budget surplus, the Democratic governor would like to spend $411 million more for one-time expenses and increase ongoing spending $287 million. He also proposed increasing the state budget balance $202 million.

Republicans say his priorities are out of place. They emphasize the need for bigger tax cuts than Dayton proposes.

While he would earmark more money for other areas, he said that the most important items in his supplemental budget plan are to increase security in the troubled St. Peter and Anoka state hospitals, as well as adding personnel to the Corrections Department.

The governor said his top priority in writing his amended budget plan was to be "fiscally responsible."

Dayton said he scaled back one of his favorite projects: implementing pre-kindergarten classes statewide. He reduced his ask from making it mandatory to allowing it to be voluntary in schools that desire expanding classes to 4-year-olds.

Several things Dayton wanted to propose were reduced or eliminated when state officials learned last month that a budget surplus slipped from $1.2 billion to $900 million.

"The lower forecast was a warning shot across all of our bows," he said.

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities praised the Dayton budget plan, especially the proposal to pump $21.5 million into Local Government Aid cities receive.

"This is a shot in the arm for cities across the state," said Le Sueur Mayor Robert Broeder, coalition president. "The governor is making a wise decision by choosing to invest some of the surplus money into programs like LGA that help keep our state healthy and poised for a bright future."

Republicans were not impressed with the Dayton budget proposals.

The governor said he sticks to his 2015 transportation plan, which includes a new gasoline tax. He wants to spend hundreds of millions of dollars more a year on transportation. Republicans, do, too, but would use existing taxes to fund it.

Dayton proposes a variety of tax cuts, such as for Minnesotans who use child care, but opposes business tax cuts that he said Republicans want.

"He is proposing spending about $7 for every $1 he is giving back in tax relief," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, while the GOP wants much of the state's budget surplus to be refunded via tax cuts.

The speaker said Republicans propose a middle-class tax cut for 2 million Minnesotans, tax credit to help repay college loans and allowing Minnesotans to avoid paying taxes on Social Security benefits.

Dayton said his tax cuts would benefit more than 400,000 Minnesotans.

He proposes allowing more than 126,000 families to get $5.7 million in tax cuts to make child care more affordable. The working family tax credit program would receive a $39.4 million injection. He also wants to add $5.7 million to a tax credit for education expenses.

Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said the Dayton plan would leave $2.5 billion unspent, the most in state history. The governor said a reserve is needed, especially now that economists predict a recession may hit in two years.

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A few provisions in the Dayton budget plan include:

-- $100 million to expand broadband high-speed Internet in rural Minnesota. The state would award grants to projects.

-- $100 million to improve racial financial disparities. The governor proposes some new programs, while Republicans want to emphasize improving the education system that they say gives unfair advantages to whites.

-- $77 million for a variety of early-childhood programs, highlighted by a voluntary program that would allow 4-year-olds to attend school. School districts could seek funds for an entire district or specific schools. Also, there would be provisions so the funds are spread across the state.

-- $12.4 million to attract more teachers.

-- $2 million to allow state employees to take six weeks' leave when a child is born or adopted.

-- $900,000 to open a St. Cloud human rights office.

-- $5 million to help tribal nations provide health and human services programs.

-- $46 million to protect the state's computer systems from hackers. Dayton said that "there are millions of threats every day, attempts to hack into one of the various state systems."

-- $22 million to improve security at the St. Peter state hospital and more than $10 million for the state sex offender treatment program. Other funds also would be set aside for other Department of Human Services and Corrections Department security issues.

-- $46.5 million to increase Local Government Aid to cities and County Program Aid to counties.

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Spending increases the governor proposes in state government for the next year in the state's existing, $42 billion, two-year budget:

Tax reductions, $117 million

Broadband, $100 million

Courts, $23 million

Corrections, $34 million

Cyber security, $46 million

Department of Human Services, $19 million (net increase, after reductions are figured in)

Bond repayment for public works, $21 million

Education and early learning, $77 million

Racial equity, $100 million

Higher education, $56 million

State payments to cities and counties, $47 million

Other agency spending, $44 million

Transportation, $14 million

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.
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