Conferees hope to close a $50 million gap between House and Senate bills for health and human services cuts. But they face the risk of a Pawlenty veto.
Legislative conferees agreed Sunday that expanding Medicaid should be part of the eventual compromise they will take to the House and Senate as early as Monday in a package of health and human service measures to cut the state's budget deficit.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has strongly opposed expanding Medicaid to cover health care for childless adults earning less than 75 percent of the poverty guideline. Even though it would bring in about $1 billion in federal money over the next three years, he argues that the state cannot afford to provide the required $1 billion match.
That and other measures the governor opposes likely will result in a veto, "and we'll be back here Thursday working on this again," warned Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka. By law, the session must end May 17.
"We want a bill the governor can sign," insisted Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who led the committee meeting Sunday. "We're going to pay for the Medicaid expansion. We're here to provide leadership, to put together the best legislation for the state."
The bill passed by the Senate last week called for $114 million in cuts, the House bill $164 million. The conference committee's goal is a bill with $160 million in cuts, a target set by DFL legislative leaders.
The 10-member committee met very late Friday night and for 11 hours Saturday and again on Sunday until early Monday. Members called a halt for the night after discovering that they had been given erroneous estimates of federal payments to the state for several programs, forcing steeper budget cuts than expected. Leaders had hoped to complete work Sunday. The committee will meet Monday.
Budget-cutting work has been extraordinarily complex this session.
In the face of worsening state finances, the House and Senate ended up last week $50 million apart in proposed health and human service spending, creating the need for the conference committee.
Complicating the picture last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that Pawlenty broke the law when he used a process called unallotment to unilaterally slice nearly $2.7 billion from state spending after he and the Legislature failed to reach a budget agreement last year, worsening the budget situation.
"As tough as this is," Abeler said Sunday, "this year's just a practice run, a warmup for next year," when the budget problems could be worse.
Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253