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Small steps taken by conferees

Published (4/25/2008)
By Mike Cook
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Conferees working to hammer out an agreement on the projected $935 million biennial budget shortfall have laid more of a foundation for their work.

After “many hours of discussion” between Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) and Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), co-chairs of the Omnibus Supplemental Budget Bill Conference Committee, a list of pure policy provisions was developed. Conferees agreed April 21 to send these provisions to other conference committees. “Leadership in each body said there will be policy bills for items moved out,” Cohen said.

Among items moved out were: a House plan to end state participation in the federal No Child Left Behind program; a provision from both bodies to give state employees paid time off for blood donation; and a House plan to prohibit the use of state funds for sex-selection abortions or for health benefits that include sex-selection abortions.

HF1812 was loaded with policy provisions, while SF3813 was not.

Conferees also agreed April 23 on a few language items where the bodies had the same or similar language.

Finance-related provisions are to remain with the conference committee, although some members continue to insist that without monetary targets it would be hard for working groups to develop their proposals.

Finance Commissioner Tom Hanson met with conferees April 23 to discuss Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s concerns and pledged to work with the legislators. “This is a starting point for discussions,” he said.

Among Pawlenty’s key concerns are:

• both plans avert from his proposal to use part of the Health Care Access Fund, and spend the fund to unsustainable future levels;

• changes to the tax treatment of corporations operating in designated tax havens would make the state less attractive to corporations that do business internationally;

• reductions in programs he believes increase academic rigor, such as Q-Comp; a reduction in state testing; and a program that provides students the opportunity to take exams for college credit; and

• Senate provisions that allow local governments to increase sales and use taxes, as well as mortgage and deed taxes. Pawlenty is concerned about additional burdens placed on taxpayers.

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