Playing politics with Minnesotans' welfare

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 10, 2011 - 3:04 PM
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Assistant Majority Leader David W. Hann responded as to why he unilaterally blocked the use of nearly $25 million of federal funds to help thousands of sick, disabled, and elderly people throughout Minnesota. Part of the funding would connect 5,000 cancer-afflicted Minnessota childlren and their parents to potentially life-savinng research. Governor Dayton also expressed his frustrations regarding the Viking stadium at the State Capitol, Tuesday, November 8, 2011. (ELIZABETH FLORES/STAR TRIBUNE) ELIZABETH FLORES � eflores@startribune.com

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Partisan finger-pointing and blame-laying are to be expected when Minnesota competes with other states for merit-based federal grants and loses.  But not when it wins.

That’s what erupted at the Capitol this week in the wake of the state’s success in winning $25 million over five years in federal health and human services grants, in several cases beating out stiff competition.
 
Some of those funds will ease the state’s own badly stretched budget, state agency officials said. 
 
But that does not make the grants popular with Senate human services finance chair David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
 
State law gives Hann a chance to hold up the receipt and spending of the grants while the Legislature is not in session (and his committee position gives him much the same power during sessions.)
 
His decision to exercise that option brought down the wrath of DFL Gov. Mark Dayton, who called Hann’s actions “an outrageous abrogation” of one legislator’s prerogatives  – to which Hann replied that Dayton’s name-calling and fear-mongering about the consequences of lost grant money was “reprehensible” and “irrational.”
 
Dayton said he will maneuver to keep Minnesota in line for the federal funds. It’s not clear whether he can do so in time to keep the money from being shifted from Minnesota to other states.
 
Hann’s willingness to deny Minnesota federal funds stands in contrast to former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s several decisions to accept federal stimulus money while faulting the policy that produced it.
 
That changed stance is a marker of how deep GOP hostility now runs to federal policies.
 
Hann’s beef with the grants has at its nub his disapproval of federal over-spending and what he considers Washington’s unconstitutional involvement in health care, though he also said he thinks the full Legislature should authorize state spending of any money, federal or otherwise.
 
When asked whether a state legislator ought to try to control federal spending, Hann said, “It doesn’t seem like Congress is doing a very good job, so somebody should.”
 
If that thinking takes hold in the Legislature’s majority, will rejection of Medicaid, higher ed Pell Grants, or transit and highway funding be next?
 
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Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.
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