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Minnesota Legislature: Budget bills come up $1 billion short

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature's nine budget bills fall more than $1 billion short, Gov.

ST. PAUL - The Minnesota Legislature's nine budget bills fall more than

$1 billion short, Gov. Mark Dayton's key advisers say.

"While the bills purport to resolve the $5 billion deficit, they do not," Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans and Commissioner Jim Schowalter of Minnesota Management and Budget wrote in a Tuesday letter to Republican legislative leaders.

The two said they hope negotiations that began this week to resolve differences between House and Senate spending and tax bills fill the gap.

The commissioners wrote that the bills have a variety of holes, such as counting on receiving federal money that may not be available and overestimating savings lawmakers booked for some programs.


Schowalter and Frans complained that some GOP-controlled committees did not use fiscal information compiled by the administration.

The letter surprised Republican leaders, who met with Dayton over Tuesday breakfast. He did not tell them about complaints in the letter, said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch of Buffalo and House Speaker Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove.

The two said they and Dayton agreed to work out base figures that all can accept.

Zellers said lawmakers still have not seen all of Dayton's specific spending proposals, something he would like before wrapping up budget negotiations.

The House and Senate each has passed eight spending bills and a tax bill. While a bill funding agriculture programs received negotiators' approval Monday, the rest are just getting started in the conference committee process.

Legislative leaders say they do not expect most conference committees to finish before a weeklong Easter and Passover break that begins in a week. When they return to work on April 26, they will have four weeks left to finish a $34 billion or larger two-year budget.

Bonding or not?

Republicans who control the Legislature are sending mixed signals about whether they will consider state funding for flood-control projects this year.


The funds, which come from the state selling bonds, would be used to build dikes and other structures to prevent future flood damage. House and Senate committees have held hearings on the subject, during which city and watershed officials told of the need.

On Tuesday, however, the chairman of the Senate bonding committee said he does not anticipate any bonding bill this year, even one dealing with flooding.

"The immediate urgency doesn't seem to be there," Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, told a reporter Tuesday.

The fact that there has been little flood damage so far lessens the need for a bill, he said. And a $5 billion budget deficit means there is little money available for bonding, the senator added.

At the same time, Zellers told another reporter that he would look into the need for a bonding bill to prevent future floods.

Zellers said he had not heard information that some flood-prone communities are concerned that if lawmakers wait until near the end of the legislative session on May 23 to pass a flood bonding bill, they may not be able to complete flood-prevention projects this year.

Officials of Oakport Township, north of Moorhead, say a bill passed before this year's flooding recedes would allow construction work to begin soon and finish before any flooding next year. But a few weeks' delay could mean the community would be vulnerable to flooding next year because gaps may remain in the community's protection structures.

Zellers and other legislative leaders plan to visit the Red River Valley later this week.


Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707 or ddavis@forumcomm.com

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