Republicans propose continuing spending cuts

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Republicans proposed today (Jan. 18) continuing spending cuts crafted last legislative session while directing Dayton Administration officials to scour state agencies for an additional $200 million in savings.

“There’s really not much new in here,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Claire Robling, R-Jordan, of the Republican Phase I budget proposal.

The public should have expected a continuation of the spending cuts reached by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and the then DFL-controlled Legislature, Robling indicated.

The reductions were part of a compromise that included an acceptance of Pawlenty budget unallotments.

All told, House and Senate Republicans hope to trim about $840 million in spending from this upcoming spending cycle, the longed-for $200 million coming from the current spending cycle.

Republicans plan to immediately take action on their legislation, House Ways and Means Committee Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, indicating a bill could move through her committee within a matter of days.

The idea is to knock down the projected $6 billion state budget deficit prior to the release of the February state budget forecast, Republicans explained.

“I don’t think any of these are easy targets,” said Holberg of the spending cuts.

But in essence, the Phase I proposal says “Stop Spending,” she said.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton issued an unfavorable statement on the Republican proposal.

“I will not agree to piecemeal cuts and partial solutions eliminating the $6.2 billion deficit in the next biennium,” said Dayton.

“I will propose a reasonable, balanced and complete budget solution on February 15th, and I ask the legislature to do the same thereafter, with citizen participation through hearings and very careful consideration of the effects of their decisions on people’s lives,” he said.

Still, Dayton, in an afternoon appearance with law enforcement officials and legislative leaders, refused to speculate on whether he would veto the Republican Phase I budget bill should he reach his desk.

Under the Republican proposal, a local government aids and credits “freeze” would be exacted, trimming about $460 million in expected spending.

One voice from Greater Minnesota was unhappy about this.

“We are deeply concerned that politicians who are calling for ‘reforming LGA’ have started the legislative session without any substantive policy conversation, but rather a blanket proposal that is simply another cut,” said Nancy Carroll, Mayor of Park Rapids and President of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities.

Other spending cuts include $185 million to higher eduction, $71 million to health and human services.

A political campaign contribution fund scheduled to return is cancelled under the Republicans proposal — some $12 million is saved.

As for the $200 million Republicans request the state management and budget office find — Republicans do not want any of this money to come out of education — Holberg explained the action as a safeguard against a “Christmas in June” scenario.

That is, state agencies spending down their budgets in an attempt to use up all their money.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, thought the Republican $200 million proposal was sloppy.

“They (Republicans) don’t want to do the work themselves,” he said.

Bakk also argued that by working “piecemeal” Republicans were tying their hands in achieving an overall budget agreement with the governor and Democrats.

But Senate Democrats in recent sessions took a piecemeal approach to their budgets.

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