Minnesota GOP attacks Senate budget fix
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota House Republicans say Senate Democrats just delayed the pain in a budget-balancing proposal a key committee passed Friday. "They fiddled while Rome burns," Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said. "They have a bill ...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota House Republicans say Senate Democrats just delayed the pain in a budget-balancing proposal a key committee passed Friday.
"They fiddled while Rome burns," Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, said. "They have a bill that is too small and there are too many accounting gimmicks."
Senate leaders said they did a good job in solving the 2003 $356 million deficit and providing $52 million in reserves. To do that, they pushed millions of dollars in payments from this fiscal year to next year.
Republicans said the DFL payment shifts mean they don't want to cut budgets and will seek tax increases later; Republicans generally oppose more taxes.
However, Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger, DFL-St. Peter, said his colleagues are not looking at tax increases because they know Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty would veto them.
Friday's Republican comments were the harshest in the 2-week-old legislative session, which began with the chore of balancing the current year's budget. After that gap is filled, lawmakers turn their attention to a projected $4.2 billion deficit in the two-year budget that begins July 1.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Thief River Falls, said the Senate cuts would have been deeper, but many agencies could not tell committees what they would cut, and senators didn't want to reduce budgets without knowing what would be affected.
Senate leaders decided to speed the budget-fix plan along, even without complete information, because only about half a year remains to make the changes, he added.
"I think it is very important to get things done," Stumpf said.
The Senate plan plugs a $356 million hole for 2003, and provides $52 million in reserves. Pawlenty's plan, generally supported by the Republican-controlled House, left a $136 million cushion.
Senators, like Pawlenty, propose cutting some programs. But they also suggest delaying sending out some state payments to counties and other recipients.
Senators would save $475 million by forcing county jails to hold some prisoners instead of sending them on to state prisons. They do provide money to compensate counties, but Knoblach said it would not be enough.
The Senate package would add a $2-per-day surcharge to nursing home residents who pay their own bills. Pawlenty suggested a $6 surcharge.
Sen. Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the average Minnesota would not feel much pain from either plan. But the next budget-balancing bill will be different.
"This problem can be resolved by a couple of Tylenol," Johnson said. "Come July 1, it is going to take a whole bottle of Tylenol and a good massage."
Johnson and other DFL leaders said their plan is much kinder to rural Minnesota than the one Pawlenty presented Tuesday.
The Senate plan keeps full state funding for county fairs and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute, and most ethanol subsidy funding. Pawlenty made deep cuts in all three.
Overall, senators suggest cutting programs $99 million, compared to $171 million in the Pawlenty plan. Both plans would use reserve funds and transfers from fund to fund.
The full Senate should debate the plan Thursday. Knoblach said his House Ways and Means Committee will hear the House plan next week, with a House vote expected Jan. 27.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Don Davis at (651) 290-0707