House budget cuts set up showdown with Dayton

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2011 - 8:36 PM

The governor has criticized the Republican approach to patching the projected $6.2 billion deficit as "piecemeal."

House Republicans voted on Wednesday to send Gov. Mark Dayton a bill that will almost certainly throw a wrench into his budget plans, just hours after the governor called for a united front to fix the state's financial troubles.

Soon after Dayton's first State of the State address, the House voted 68-61 to approve a conference committee report that would cut $900 million in spending over two years, including aid to cities and counties, higher education, the renter's credit and health and human services programs.

The report ironed out initial differences between the GOP-led House and Senate and eliminated a public employee wage freeze that was in the House version passed last week.

The Senate is expected to pass the report on Thursday, which would land the bill on Dayton's desk by the end of the week.

That sets up the what could be the first major power struggle between the DFL governor and the Republican-led Legislature.

Dayton will be forced to choose between vetoing a package of spending cuts that he has criticized as a "piecemeal" approach to the state's fiscal woes or embracing a bill that clashes with his own proposal for closing a $6.2 billion projected budget gap.

He will release his budget package Tuesday.

At least one DFL legislator was irked by the timing of the House vote -- just hours after Dayton delivered his speech to a joint session.

"This scheduling of a session immediately following the State of the State address to pass a controversial conference committee report seems designed to interfere with the Governor's message," Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Kurt Zellers.

Lengthy debate

The House floor debate, which lasted more than an hour, was peppered with complaints from DFLers who said the bill would raise property taxes and cut public jobs. Republicans shot back that the bill would extend many cuts that a DFL-controlled Legislature approved last spring.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, challenged Republicans to unveil their full budget solution.

"This is a political bill with a guaranteed veto result," Thissen said. "Let's put your money where your mouth is and show us what $6.2 billion in cuts actually looks like to the state of Minnesota. You said you're going to do it. I want to see that bill."

House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, called the bill "a first step in what will be a long process" to balance the budget.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg of Lakeville, the bill's sponsor, said that if it were signed into law by Feb. 10, it could be used to lower the amount of the state's projected deficit in the upcoming economic forecast, a comprehensive look at the state's fiscal health.

"The demographics of this state tell us we cannot sustain this level of funding in the state of Minnesota," Holberg said. "It's time to get working on it. We are out of money."

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, told the freshman class that they will need to bring in extra revenue to solve the budget problem.

"If you think you're going to leave here without raising some revenue, you are sadly mistaken," Rukavina said. "It's a question of how you raise it. And to start off like this, nickel-and-diming small communities and local government aid. ... It's not the right approach."

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210

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