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Budget bill headed for governor’s desk

published 5/17/2010
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The session is over and so is the special session. Only the stroke of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s pen is now required to balance the state’s projected $3 billion budget shortfall.

The House and Senate passed SS HF1*/SS SF1. Sponsored by Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) and Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), the bill resolves the biennial deficit almost exclusively through spending cuts. It stems from a negotiated budget deal announced last night by legislative leaders and the governor.

A key provision in the bill would allow Pawlenty or the next governor to let Minnesota opt in to an early expansion of Medicaid enrollment. DFLers had hoped to do so as soon as possible, but later compromised by leaving the decision to the current or future governor. Pawlenty has said he will not opt into the program.

The House passed the bill 97-32 earlier today; the Senate passed it 52-14 minutes later. Both bodies subsequently adjourned sine die. The bill now goes to Pawlenty, who said he will sign it.

The bill would ratify the $2.7 billion in unallotments Pawlenty made last year. It also includes a variety of cuts to health and human services programs, and authorizes the delay of corporate and sales tax refunds to help manage the state’s cash flow.

The bill is not all bad news for state programs. General Assistance Medical Care would get a $10 million boost from the bill to help fund rural care for GAMC patients. Additionally, the governor’s $1.8 billion K-12 school aid payment shift included in the bill would be paid back beginning in the 2012-13 biennium.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle expressed equal amounts of satisfaction and disappointment with the bill. DFLers argued the bill preserved many of their priorities by not cutting nursing homes and schools, and by mitigating Pawlenty’s proposed local government aid cuts, which they said could have led to property tax increases.

“We wanted to prioritize our kids, our seniors and middle-class Minnesotans, so that’s what we did,” said House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm).

Republicans said the bill was a good start to trimming down the size of government, but they would like to have seen more permanent cuts and more dramatic reforms of government services.

“It’s not a perfect product, it’s not a pretty product, but it is what it is,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).

Pawlenty, noting that the cuts in the bill would bring state spending to a level about 10 percent lower than the previous biennium, said the bill sent a strong signal to the state’s “job providers” that Minnesota is not looking to raise their taxes.

“Minnesota needed to change,” Pawlenty said. “It was on an absolute spending binge.”

House and Senate leaders announced late Sunday night they had reached a deal with the governor, but would not have time to enact the necessary legislation before a midnight deadline. The governor agreed to call a special session at 12:01 a.m. to let them finish the work.

- Nick Busse

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