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Republicans, Dayton go different ways on tackling state budget

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota House Republican leaders and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton breakfasted together Tuesday in an effort to lay groundwork on working well together, but later in the day took opposing views on how to begin tackling a $6.2 billion state budget deficit.

Republicans who control the Legislature announced they want the Dayton administration to trim $200 million from the budget that ends June 30 and cut another $840 million from proposed spending in the two-year budget that begins the next day.

Tuesday's Republican bill introduction was the first of several budget-balancing measures, with larger budget cuts coming later.

Dayton did not like the way Republicans are going about the budget-balancing situation.

"I will not agree to piecemeal cuts and partial solutions eliminating the $6.2 billion deficit in the next biennium," Dayton said. "I will propose a reasonable, balanced and complete budget solution on February 15, 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."

The Republican proposal for 2012-13's budget would extend then-Governor Tim Pawlenty's budget cuts, known as unallotment, to find the $840 million in savings.

Hardest hit in the next budget under the GOP plan would be state payments to local governments, such as Local Government Aid. The bill reduces those payments $460 million from that expected in the two-year budget beginning July 1.

Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg of the House Ways and Means Committee said the Legislature will reform Local Government Aid so cities that really need the aid still receive it.

The president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities was not happy.

"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," Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said a cut like Republicans propose probably would drive up local property taxes by $300 million.

The GOP plan also would trim projected higher education spending $185 million and health and human services budgets $72 million.

Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, of the House Higher Education Committee said he did not know how much students or the public would notice college and university cuts.

Republicans want $200 million cut from the budget that ends June 30.

Holberg, R-Lakeville, said the bill is designed in part to end what she called "Christmas in June," a state government tradition of spending down what is left in an agency's budget as the budget cycle ends.

The bill could pass the Legislature next week.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.