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Minnesota budget deadline approaching

There are less than six weeks remaining in the 2009 Legislative Session, which is constitutionally required to conclude by May 18. In that time, the Senate, House and Governor must come to an agreement on how to solve the state's $6.4 billion budget deficit for the biennium that begins July 1.

The deadline for Senate and House policy committees to complete work on bills that do not raise or spend any money has passed. Those policy bills are either awaiting votes on the Senate floor, or they are on their way to conference committee or to the Governor's desk. The main focus this week is on budget bills for each division, which will include recommended budget cuts and revenue increases needed to solve the budget gap.

The deadline for budget committees to pass budget recommendations to the full Senate was April 16. The deadline for the Tax Committee to pass a tax bill is April 21. Once all of these bills are passed by the full Senate, they will enter conference committee for final negotiations among the House, the Senate and the Governor.

The Senate's budget bills recommend proportional cuts in all areas. We are focused on creating a fair, balanced budget that does not unduly harm one area more than another. The Governor's budget, in contrast, cuts as much as 30 percent from health care and nursing homes, but recommends hardly any cuts for some other areas. The Senate believes the budget solution must be a shared solution with shared cuts and shared revenues -- this will be the formula for a better Minnesota.

The Governor's budget is heavily reliant on accounting shifts and gimmicks. He pushes funding requirements two years into the future to make it look like the immediate budget is balanced when, in reality, it just delays money problems for two years. His budget also borrows money through a tobacco bond appropriation. Again, this creates a bigger problem in the future when the state will have to pay back this loan.

Entering conference committee, the Senate will focus on our responsible budget proposal that solves the current deficit and sets up a sustainable revenue pattern for the future. There will be tough cuts made to nearly every budget area -- actually more cuts than the Governor recommends -- but many of those cuts will accompany program reforms that will make Minnesota's government more streamlined and efficient in the future.

The Senate's plan also proposes to raise new money. The current budget deficit is closely linked with the current recession, and unless Minnesota makes important investments in economic development initiatives and other job-growing policies, we will not recover from this recession or have an opportunity for success in the future.

One area where the Senate makes strong investments is through capital investment. The bonding bill is expected to create more than 3,600 jobs in the construction by spurring infrastructure improvements across the state, and even more ongoing jobs will be created once renovations and facilities are completed. It's a key area where we can spend a little money to make even more money in the future, and to put more Minnesotans back to work.

The Senate's bonding bill calls for a total of $367 million invested in projects throughout the state; the House's bill recommends about $100 million less. I'm hopeful the House-Senate conference committee will find a compromise solution within the next several days. It's important to get this funding approved, get workers hired and get dollars moving while the construction season is just beginning.