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House Ways and Means Committee sets spending targets

Rep. Jim Knoblach, center, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, discusses an amendment offered by Rep Gene Pelowski, in purple, during the House Ways and Means Committee where the House budget resolution was being taken up. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Updated 10:10 p.m. 

Committee leaders can now begin crafting omnibus finance bills, with the House Ways and Means Committee’s approval late Tuesday of a budget resolution with spending targets for the 2016-17 biennium.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Knoblach (R-St. Cloud), the budget resolution sets a maximum limit on net spending at $42.58 billion.

The targets announced for each fiscal committee (with some tweaks from figures announced during a Tuesday morning press conference):

  • E-12 education: $16.87 billion
  • Health and human services: $11.62 billion
  • Taxes: $5.63 billion
  • Higher education: $2.95 billion
  • Public safety: $2.08 billion
  • Capital projects and grants: $1.52 billion
  • State government finance: $902.64 million
  • Jobs and economic development: $330.9 million
  • Environment: $231 million
  • Transportation: $361 million
  • Agriculture: $91.16 million

Within those targets, Knoblach said he expected to see $2 billion in tax relief and an $800 million bonding bill next year. DFLers asked if he had expectations for other spending areas; Knoblach said no.

In addition to the spending targets, the Republican-proposed budget would put $100 million in the state’s rainy-day fund. It would also set aside $319 million as “yet-to-be-allocated” funds — an amount Knoblach said was “a little unusual, maybe hasn’t been done before.” But he said it was important to have flexibility in case of changes in the economy or to deal with “unknowns in some committees.”

The committee voted down a series of DFL-sponsored amendments that hewed closely to budget figures proposed by Gov. Mark Dayton, including one offered by Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) on the target for E-12 education.

“People expect of the Legislature that the Legislature, in this growing economy, will address the needs of our children, from early childhood through graduation, as best we can. I think the governor’s numbers are more realistic,” Murphy said.

“I think we’re going to make a valiant effort with the budget target we’ve been given to make investment options for students,” said Rep. Jenifer Loon (R-Eden Prairie), chair of the House Education Finance Committee. “It’s not only the money, but also giving districts the flexibility to do the best they can for their students.”

Announcing the targets

At a press conference Tuesday morning, House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said the targets reflect Republican priorities of education, the aging population and roads and bridges. (On Monday, Republicans announced a 10-year, $7 billion transportation package.)

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) in a later press conference said the Republican-proposed budget would mean “real cuts to people in a time of budget surpluses.” 

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