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Minn. House passes $322M budget plan

  • Article by: MIKE CRONIN
  • Associated Press
  • April 4, 2014 - 12:30 AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — After debate stretched late into the night, the Minnesota House approved a budget plan Thursday that would spend another $322 million of the state's surplus.

More than 40 amendments were offered, mostly by Republicans, before the Democratic-controlled chamber approved the plan shortly before midnight on a 70-59 party-line vote.

Before discussion of the package began, DFL leaders touted increased money for K-12 schools, caregivers for the elderly and disabled and roads battered by winter. They also highlighted a project to expand statewide access to high-speed broadband.

"These are the things Minnesotans treasure," House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, told reporters.

Echoing similar statements during Thursday's budget debate, Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told Democrats they were spending too much money with their measure.

"You're taking the money out of the pockets of hardworking Minnesotans and you know what? They feel it," Daudt said on the House floor. "When I talk to them, they feel it."

The spending plan would make adjustments to a roughly $39 billion, two-year budget adopted last spring. Next up is the Senate's plan, which could be approved as early as Monday. Members of both chambers would then meet to resolve differences before a package goes to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

Minnesota's budget picture has brightened over the past year, with a strengthening economy and increasing tax collections leading to an estimated $1.2 billion surplus. State lawmakers already have put about half that toward tax relief and expanding a rainy-day reserve fund.

Democrats touted the $75 million going to Minnesota's public schools. Part of that money will help pay for teacher-evaluation costs.

The cash infusion also includes $3.5 million to ensure that all students who want a hot lunch receive one. A February report by Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid found that some students who couldn't afford a lunch were refused a meal. The revelation outraged Dayton and other lawmakers.

And lawmakers added another $58 per pupil, for a total of $5,864 for each student, according to the state's core funding formula.

"We're going to close the achievement gap and create the world's best workforce," said Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth.

The $91 million allocated for workers caring for the elderly and disabled would help guarantee competitive pay and reduce turnover among the 90,000 who serve those living in home- and community-based settings, not nursing homes.

Before the floor debate, Thissen also lauded the extra $15 million Minnesota cities and counties would get to repair potholes, "which I think all Minnesotans are living with these days."

Another $10 million would go to repair winter damage done to state highways.

Though some felt that was too little. Anne Finn, a lobbyist for the League of Minnesota Cities, said permanently fixing a pothole costs about $1,300 each.

"When you spread the money out among Minnesota's 853 cities, it's not going to go very far," she said.

Thissen said the $25 million investment into providing fast broadband access throughout Minnesota will create jobs.

"We've heard from people from all over the state of Minnesota who are working in this area, particularly businesses, that one of the reasons they can't expand or have difficulty expanding in certain parts of the state is that they can't get access to high-speed broadband," Thissen said. "So really this is about creating equality across the state."

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