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Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, wants to give Minnesota high school students scholarships for graduating early. (Don Davis/St. Paul Bureau)

Minnesota Senate Republicans want state and local pay freeze

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota Senate Republicans want to freeze all state and local government workers' pay.

The proposal goes a step beyond Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who last week said he favored a freeze, but has not offered a bill to do that.

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Assistant Senate Minority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, on Wednesday said his plan would freeze salaries for two years. The state's next two-year budget faces at least a $5 billion deficit and Michel said his plan should save $1 billion.

"It seems that every few days, another Minnesota company is announcing layoffs due to the struggling economy," Michel said. "Now is the time for state government to live within its means."

Michel said he means no disrespect to state workers. "This is not about employee bashing."

But the leader of the state's largest union came out fighting.

The bill would "take away their right to bargain," said Eliot Seide, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5. State workers have had a legal right to bargain in a union since 1973.

Seide said that if policymakers want to freeze pay, they should bring that up during union negotiations. He also said that the state should guarantee there would be no layoffs to accompany any freeze proposal.

'Give scholarships'

Minnesota high school students could get scholarships of up to $7,500 if they graduate early under a proposal pushed by Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington and other Republican lawmakers.

Garofalo said that his proposal would save nearly $25 million in the next two years because fewer high school students would be in schools.

"The earlier a student graduates, the more the scholarship would be," Garofalo said.

His idea is to provide scholarships starting at $2,500 for students who graduate one semester early.

He expected more than 3,000 students to take advantage of the program, if it passes. However, the House education finance chairwoman threw cold water on the proposal.

"This proposal is actually a bad deal for kids because they'd end up paying more for college than if they took full advantage of PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Options) and College in the Schools programs that already exist," said Rep. Mindy Greiling, DFL-Roseville. "And since the financial incentives for students are questionable, the cost savings to the state are uncertain."

Hearing will happen

The chairman of the Senate transit subcommittee reversed directions Wednesday, now promising to consider a bill that would take $95 million out of Twin Cities transit funding and spread it among school bus programs statewide.

"Please accept my sincere apology for my remarks dismissing ... the student transit initiative," Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, wrote to the bill's author, Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar. "I was wrong and I should have immediately welcomes the opportunity."

Right after Gimse announced the bill, Dibble dismissed it, saying his committee would not consider the measure.

In his letter, Dibble made it clear he still strongly opposes the bill: "I'm very interested in hearing your explanation of how taking $95 million from a transit system that already is facing a deficit of $45 million budget (creating a shortfall of over 32 percent) will help Minnesota families who need to get to work and job training so they can provide for their children," he wrote.

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