Budget, bonding plans advance
ST. PAUL - Legislative plans to fill a $935 million state budget gap are taking shape in ways similar to a proposal outlined by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but leading Democratic lawmakers want to spend $100 million more for a legislative public works plan than the Republican governor.
This week is key for the state budget as lawmakers face a Friday deadline for committees to pass their funding bills.
Today, a House-Senate conference committee is expected to hold its only meeting on a legislative public works funding plan - known as the bonding bill - and set up a confrontation with Pawlenty.
House bonding Chairwoman Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said legislative leaders told her fund $925 million of projects, which would be paid by the state selling bonds. It was up to her and Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, to work out details.
Langseth, the Senate's bonding chairman, said tentative plans are for the full Senate and House to pass the bonding bill this week.
Lawmakers plan to go ahead with their bonding plans despite Pawlenty's public threats to veto the entire bill. He also could veto specific projects out of the bill.
Last week, Pawlenty said he was getting good cooperation from House negotiators toward his target of $825 million, but not from the Senate.
"I told them not to assume the bill will be cleaned up for them and that they risk the whole bill being taken down if they send a porked-up or excessive bill to my desk," Pawlenty said.
Both chambers earlier passed bills in the $965 million range.
Langseth would not say what was included in the bonding plan because "right now it is all so tentative."
Money was squeezed out of many of the projects to fit under the $925 million cap, but Langseth said that few projects in either the House or Senate bill dropped out entirely.
Pawlenty insists on some projects, including a proposed new state park on Lake Vermillion. Langseth said Pawlenty refuses to give, so legislators will proceed with their own plan.
"In Minnesota, we never did have a dictatorship before," Langseth said.
While a legislative bonding agreement neared completion, the House Ways and Means Committee Tuesday approved its budget plan on a voice vote, with Republican members voting against it.
A third of the budget fix would come from the state's reserve fund, money set aside as in a savings account for emergencies. The House Democratic-Farmer-Laborite plan also would require some budget cuts and would raise some money by closing what DFLers call tax loopholes.
Pawlenty would use the same three methods to solve the budget problem, but in somewhat different ways.
The Senate is not expected to have its budget proposal finished until Friday.
Legislative finance committees this week will make specific budget decisions.
Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, said the budget targets his committee approved Tuesday came after extensive meetings among legislative chairmen and fiscal leaders.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said the DFL plan would give more money to nursing homes, public education and colleges than Pawlenty.
The biggest budget cuts would come from health and human services programs. Pawlenty proposes chopping $523 million from that area's nearly $8 billion budget. The House plan calls for a $131 million cut.
Republicans did not like the plan. Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he feared businesses will be forced to pay higher workers' compensation premiums to help balance the budget.
"It would result in higher taxes on all of our businesses," McNamara said.
DFL leaders, however, said such decisions have not been made.
"We are giving our committees targets," Solberg said. "We are not telling them how to meet the targets."
One of the few areas of the budget to get more money would be public schools. Districts would average $51 per student more under the budget plan, which still has many stops before it reaches Pawlenty's desk.
Solberg said he expects differences with a Senate budget plan, but "we are kind of going down the same path." The bigger differences will be with Pawlenty.
State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.