Minnesota would spend an additional $209 million on education, prisons and raises for state-paid home health workers, under a proposal approved by the state Senate on Tuesday.
“There are many things in here that are desirous,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul.
He said a strengthening economy and sound DFL budgeting have “allowed us to make a number of key investments for Minnesota — notably, providing pay equity for workers in residential care facilities and enhanced early childhood education.”
The 37-27 vote came after a prolonged floor debate in which Republicans repeatedly failed to amend the measure. Republicans have pushed for deeper tax cuts instead of more spending.
“Minnesotans have once again been denied additional tax relief,” said Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. She called the measure “a disappointing display of misplaced priorities.”
DFLers who control the House and Senate are trying to finish up the spending measures to be funded by the state’s projected $1.2 billion budget surplus. Already, legislators have earmarked about $550 million for business and consumer tax relief and another $150 million for the state’s rainy-day fund.
The Senate proposal includes several provisions with strong bipartisan support, including 5 percent raises for home health workers, which will cost about $80 million.
“We support this,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. “This is something that was neglected in the budget last year.”
The proposal also includes a $2 million-a-year boost to state nursing homes to offset a measure to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.50 an hour.
An unexpected increase in criminal convictions prompted DFL legislators to set aside an additional $11 million to pay for the growth in the state prison population and renting beds in county jails.
The Department of Corrections reported that incarcerations are up 8 percent over earlier estimates, or an average of 513 extra offenders each year.
Law enforcement officials say the increased incarcerations come from a wide range of crimes, including a 23 percent jump in methamphetamine convictions, a 15 percent increase in drunken drivers and a 5 percent increase in criminal sexual conduct convictions. Corrections officials logged a decrease in prisoners for non-methamphetamine drug offenses.
The proposal adds millions in new spending on elementary education, including $8.8 million in early learning scholarships. The proposal sets aside money for bridging the achievement gap faced by minority students and for teacher evaluations.
Senators also included $3.5 million to ensure that all low-income students have a hot school lunch.
The measure also has a one-time appropriation of $2.5 million to deal with financial challenges at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The Senate measure differs from the House plan, so a conference committee will try to resolve the differences. The measure increases spending by more than $741 million in the next budget cycle, ending in 2017.
Gov. Mark Dayton said fellow DFLers in the Legislature are spending millions more than he proposed.
“I am concerned about the spending level,” Dayton said Tuesday.
With an election coming, DFLers have been under increased pressure from advocacy groups to increase spending. Dayton has urged more caution, preferring to set aside any leftover surplus for the state budget reserves or perhaps part of the Capitol restoration.
Dayton did not threaten a line-item veto of any spending, saying he preferred to meet with legislative leaders in coming weeks to reach an agreement.
“There’s room to negotiate,” Dayton said. “I don’t question the wisdom or the value of nearly every proposal, but that adds up to a lot of money.”
Dayton is pressing for more state-backed debt to improve the colleges and universities, along with other construction projects with statewide significance.
Minnesota can’t have a first-rate higher education system with third-rate facilities, Dayton said.