Gov, Mark Dayton is at odds with a Republican state senator over whether federal health care funds should be spent in Minnesota.
Dayton, a Democrat, said Tuesday that state Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, is unilaterally blocking federal grants that would help sick children and senior citizens.
Hann argues that he is doing his job to oversee spending and was assured by officials in the Dayton administration that no one would be harmed if he took the action.
The battle over the federal health grants has less to do with whether the money will eventually come to the state than it does with politics. Dayton accused Hann, an outspoken opponent of the federal health care overhaul, of putting his political ideology in front of the needs of the state.
"I think it's disgraceful for anybody to play election politics with people's lives," Dayton said.
At issue is Hann's use of his authority as chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee to block the state from spending at least $25 million in federal health care grants. Dayton said Hann's action means cancer-afflicted children won't receive care, and that senior citizens are less likely to stay in their homes.
The governor said the federal government authorized the spending and allocated the funds to the state of Minnesota. He called Hann's action unprecedented and undemocratic.
"For one member to have a philosophical disagreement with the existence of health in the public sector, to then exercise that as it affects everybody in Minnesota, to me is really irresponsible," Dayton said.
The federal government sends millions of dollars to the state in the forms of grants at various times of the year. The Legislature typically approves the spending when lawmakers are in session. When lawmakers are not in session, a small group of legislative leaders nearly always approves the money.
But in this instance, it's different. The Republican-controlled Legislature has openly questioned "out of control spending." GOP leaders also are skeptical of the health care law championed by President Obama and are working to stop it from being implemented.
Hann said he wants more information about how the state would spend the money. He said he was assured by Dayton Administration officials that a delay would cause no harm.
"To me it's all about whether or not the spending of state money is going to be done in a way that provides scrutiny and an opportunity to ask questions or whether we're going to say, just because it's federal money, the governor can just spend it without any scrutiny at all," Hann said. "That to me doesn't seem right."
The two sides can't even agree over how much money is at stake. Dayton administration officials say it's $25 million. Hann characterized it as $60 million and said that disagreement is one reason he wants to hold a hearing on the issue.
"I don't think I should be the guy that determines whether or not we spend $60 million or not," Hann said. "I don't think the governor should be either. I think that's something for the public and the Legislature to do in the light of day."
It appears that Hann will get a hearing. Dayton said his administration will continue to push for the Legislature to approve the funding. Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter said he will call an emergency meeting of the Legislative Advisory Commission to receive input on the federal grant.
But Schowalter said the administration intends to eventually spend the money regardless of the Commission's decision. At most that process would delay the state getting the grant money by a couple of weeks.