The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate pushed forward an early budget showdown with Gov. Mark Dayton, proposing $830 million in permanent cuts Thursday that the governor has already said was a “piecemeal approach” to solving the state’s $6.2 billion deficit.
“This is really, simply, the beginning,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, shortly before the Senate endorsed the budget cuts along party lines.
The vote was similar to last week’s action by in the Minnesota House, which is now also controlled by Republicans, and set up an attempt to get the cuts to Dayton before he unveils his own budget in less than two weeks.
Republicans also appeared to be racing to get an early budget cutting bill to Dayton before Feb. 10 – a week from now -- in order to get the reductions into the state’s next revenue forecast.
But the Senate version, unlike a House proposal to slash $1 billion in state spending, does not include a state employee pay freeze and does not ask state agencies to cut as much money – two items that were hurriedly expected to be sorted out in a conference committee.
Thursday’s nearly three-hour Senate debate marked the most passionate criticisms by DFLers since the party lost the Senate majority for the first time in more than a generation.  DFLers said the cuts were being made too quickly, without adequate testimony from the public, and unlike a year ago were not being backfilled by federal stimulus money.
 In often pointed exchanges, a series of high-ranking DFLers attempted to question individual freshman Republican senators on whether they were aware of the magnitude of the reductions, and how they would impact their districts.
“Don’t throw vulnerable children and senior citizens under the bus first,” said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, referring to health and human service program cuts in the legislation.
But  Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, replied: “[Those programs are] sort of the safety nets to the safety nets. . .I know it’s not easy, but we are in difficult times here.”