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Conferees reconcile 4 spending bills

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER
  • Star Tribune
  • July 18, 2011 - 11:09 PM

Four days after reaching a global budget agreement, GOP leaders and the governor hammered out a deal Monday on four spending bills.

The Legislature must still approve those bills, which were released to the public on Monday evening. They include appropriations for public safety and judiciary, transportation, environment and natural resources, and Legacy funds.

Also Monday, bar owners unable to buy liquor during the state's shutdown found no relief when Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin denied their petition asking the state to resume processing liquor purchasing cards. About 300 liquor retailers across the state, including bars, restaurants and liquor stores, cannot buy more alcohol because their cards have expired.

In the bills finalized Monday, one of the most significant changes involves the funding of Twin Cities transit. Republican lawmakers wanted to cut Met Council funding to about $20 million -- $100 million below current levels. Dayton wanted $129 million.

The two sides agreed to $78 million over the next two years, a $42 million dip from Met Council's take last biennium. In 2014-15, however, they agreed to Dayton's position of $129 million.

In the environment and natural resources bill, Republicans agreed to spend about $9 million more than originally proposed on the Department of Natural Resources -- $10 million less than Dayton requested. Funding for the Pollution Control Agency rose from $5.6 million in the GOP budget to $10.1 million. Dayton had wanted $17 million.

The public safety bill spends about $10 million more on the Office of Justice Programs than the GOP budget would have. The $65 million appropriation for that office is $6 million below Dayton's recommendation.

The final public safety deal also restores most of the funding Dayton wanted for the Human Rights Department. Dayton requested $6.6 million, while Republicans wanted $2.3 million. They agreed to $6.3 million.

Some of the largest deals have yet to be released, however.

The most contentious areas of the budget, K-12 education and Health and Human Services, remained behind closed doors on Monday evening. Republicans have been at odds with the governor over education policy and health spending.

No help for bar owners

Gearin, in her ruling on Monday, said the liquor dealers' petition raises "complex interpretations of the Minnesota Constitution," which the court will consider if the shutdown is not resolved this week. Those constitutional arguments, Gearin wrote, fall outside the scope of the court-appointed Special Master.

Special Master Kathleen Blatz recommended that the court deny the petition because the court already recognized that the shutdown will adversely affect private businesses. The relevant licensing operations were deemed non-critical during the shutdown.

"The effects of the shutdown will be harmful, if not crippling, to many businesses but the solution to this problem does not rest with the judicial branch but rather those branches charged with enacting the state's budget," Blatz wrote.

State officials say the number of liquor outlets unable to purchase new stocks of alcohol will reach about 425 by the end of the month.

MillerCoors, which was also affected by expired licenses, has not felt the same sting as individual outlets. State officials asked the company to develop a plan to stop distribution and remove their product from shelves last week, but neither has happened.

MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green said they are still distributing. That is technically a violation of state law.

"We were exploring legal action, but given the shutdown is coming to a conclusion we don't plan to pursue," Green wrote in an e-mail Monday. "Still in discussions with state at this point and we don't foresee any issues with getting our licenses renewed."

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210

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