GOP leaders confident they have support for budget

Budget deal reached
Governor Mark Dayton listens as House Speaker Kurt Zellers discusses a budget deal at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, July 14, 2011.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Republican leaders of the Legislature are confident they have the votes to pass the bills that make up the budget framework they and Gov. Mark Dayton agreed to on Thursday.

However, some rank-and-file GOP lawmakers aren't embracing the plan.

The budget deal relies on $1.4 billion in new revenue - money Dayton said will protect core government services. But that extra money also puts many Republican lawmakers in a tough spot. Since January, many have argued that they won't spend "a penny more" than $34 billion dollars on the state budget. Now, they're being asked to vote for a budget plan that spends more than $1 billion more.

"I don't like what I'm seeing right now because I'm not seeing the details on the spending," said state Rep. Ernie Leidiger of Mayer. A first-term Republican, Leidiger said he's not sure if he'll vote for the budget. He said he needs to see specifics.

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"We don't have a list of what is that money is going to be used for," Leidiger said. "So if that's going to go into growing government again, how do we support that? And we're not hearing that yet."

Leidiger isn't alone. State Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, is also taking a wait-and-see approach to the budget. Benson said he's concerned about a bigger school payment delay and borrowing against future tobacco payments.

"I guess I'm waiting to see in the details of how that money would be spent," Benson said. "I'm not terribly happy with the shift. For that part, at least, it's kicking it down the road a little bit, and I don't like that. I'm anxious to see how they use that money."

Benson is willing to support the measure if the money goes into a special fund used to pay for subsidized health insurance. But he also wants to see a reduction in the tax on doctors, hospitals and clinics that pay for the MinnesotaCare insurance program.

GOP leaders repeatedly said they have the votes to pass the budget.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, told MPR News early Friday she's confident there will be enough Republican votes to pass it. But she later acknowledged that some Republicans have concerns about the deal. Koch said her caucus needs to see long-term savings from the plan.

"So, if we're going to allow for a little one-time money," Koch said. "For us to get behind that and support that, and that's the discussion we need to have today, there have to be changes about how we spend and changes not just for this budget but going forward."

Her comments could be at odds with Dayton, who said he abandoned his push for tax increases to get the higher spending he wanted.

"What's important about this agreement is the level of spending for essential services is the one that I established about six weeks ago with the midpoint but my bottom line of $35.8 billion," Dayton said.

That concerns state Sen. Dave Thompson of Lakeville. The Republican Assistant Senate Majority Leader isn't sure whether he'll vote for the budget. But he said using one-time revenue for ongoing spending will be a big problem for him and other members.

"If in fact that's what it ends up being, because all of this money is being put into structural kinds of spending, that's going to be a major problem," Thompson said.

Dayton said he trusts GOP leaders will be able to secure the votes needed to pass the bills.

They'll likely have to do it without Democratic votes. DFL Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook isn't voicing support to move the plan through the Senate.

"No, I don't plan on voting for a borrowing proposal," Bakk said. "I think it's a totally irresponsible solution to the problem."

GOP leaders in both the House and Senate won't have much wiggle room to get the budget bills to Gov. Dayton. They can afford to lose four votes in the House and three in the Senate.

If they can't muster enough votes, the shutdown will continue.