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Budget cuts proposed

Published (1/21/2011)
By Nick Busse
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Republican leaders proposed a package of spending reductions that they say will take an early bite out of the state’s projected $6.2 billion deficit.

House and Senate Republicans introduced a bill Jan. 18 that would reduce more than $1 billion in state spending in the next biennium. They described it as a first step toward eliminating the deficit. They plan to propose additional reductions after Gov. Mark Dayton releases his budget proposals Feb. 15.

“This is phase one of a process we’re going to go through here in the next couple of months,” said House Speaker Kurt Zellers (R-Maple Grove).

HF130, sponsored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville), would make more than $840 million in one-time spending reductions permanent. From previous budget projections, these include $584 million in cuts to tax aids and credits (primarily to local governments); $185 million to higher education; and $72 million to various health and human services programs.

The reductions were made in the current biennium as part of a budget deal between DFL lawmakers and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Holberg said the bill would merely extend them into the next biennium and beyond.

In addition, the bill would ask Minnesota Management & Budget to identify $200 million in savings that could be achieved by capturing unspent dollars in agencies’ budgets. Holberg said agencies often rush to spend excess money before the end of the biennium in order to justify their funding levels. In a press release, the House Republican Caucus referred to this as the “Christmas in June” effect.

House and Senate DFLers criticized the proposal as being piecemeal in nature, and said it would cause higher tuition and property taxes for Minnesotans. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) said the bill broke a promise by Republican leaders.

“If you look at what they said earlier, they were going to focus on protecting kids, people with disabilities and the elderly. They’ve already broken that promise with this proposal,” he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement indicating he is unlikely to agree to the measure.

“I will not agree to piecemeal cuts and partial solutions,” Dayton said. “I will propose a reasonable, balanced and complete budget solution on February 15th, and I ask the legislature to do the same thereafter.”

The bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. A companion, SF60, sponsored by Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

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