At a fast clip. the budget bills are finally starting to move through the Legislature.
After more than two hours spent huddled to pore over the dozen bills that must be passed to bring down the curtain on Minnesota's state government shutdown, the House and Senate began passing them early Tuesday evening.
In less than two hours, both chambers had passed five of the nine budget bills.
Despite the initial speediness of legislative action, lawmakers are still facing the heavy lifting of the special session, in the form of the massive bills that will finance K-12 education and health and human services, the two biggest chunks of the $35 billion-plus budget..
As of 8:30 p.m., the texts of both bills still hadn't been posted on the Legislature's website.
The expected slowdown began shortly after the House reconvened about 9:30 p.m., when the chamber's members took up the tax bill, which is all but certain to get snarled in a protracted debate. One big reason: It contains the $700 million tobacco settlement designed to raise half of the $1.4 billion in additional revenue that was negotiated by Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders. GOP legislators are none too happy about that move and DFLers also have a host of objections to much of the bill.
By a 57-7 vote, the Senate approved a $1.8 billion measure that would fund law enforcement programs, prisons and the state's courts. That spending essentially splits the difference between Dayton, who wanted to spend an additional $20 million, while Republicans wanted to spend about $40 million less. The House quickly followed suit and passed the bill.
A few minutes later, the House approved the transportation budget bill, by a vote of 71 to 56, which will spend $125 million from the state's general fund. That represents a cut of about one-fourth, or $40 million, from the 2010-2011 budget.
While Republicans had originally wanted a major cut in the budget of the Met Counci, specifically targeting transit spending in the Twin Cities metro area. Dayton wanted to increase that portion of the budget slightly to $129 million, while the GOP wanted to cut it to $20.The two sides compromised by setting the agency's budget at $78 million over the next two years.
Next up in the House was the $2.5 billion legislation, which will deliver major cuts to the state's public colleges and universities.
The University of Minnesota and MnSCU system will both receive a 10.5 percent cut from their current funding levels. When projected costs for the next two years are factored in, those cuts are deeper. For the U, the budget is a 15.1 percent cut from their projected costs. For MnSCU, that cut is 13.5 percent.
The most controversial provision of the bill, human cloning restrictions that could have affected stem cell research, was stripped from the bill.
The Senate also has approved the bill.
The Senate sent the environment and natural resources bill to the House after approving it by a wide margin. The $238 million bill will pay for the Department of Natural resources, environmental protection and the innesota Zoo. That amount is squarely in the middle between what Dayton wanted to spend and what Republicans wanted to spend.
The House approved the bill after little debate.
Both chambers approved the budget bill that pays for employment and economic development, a relatively small piece of legislation, will spend just over $170 million from the state’s general fund in the next two years, slightly less than recommended by Gov. Mark Dayton.