Minn. House considers $323M budget plan

The Minnesota State Capitol
The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Hart Van Denburg / MPR News, File

State lawmakers are taking another big chunk out the state's $1.2 billion budget surplus. The Minnesota House passed a $323 million funding measure Thursday night on a vote of 70 to 59, following nearly nine hours of debate.

The bill provides money for schools, home health care workers, road repair, rural broadband and other initiatives.

Lawmakers took their first big bite out of the surplus last month when they passed $443 million in tax cuts and increased the budget reserve by $150 million. DFL House Majority Leader Erin Murphy of St. Paul said the next step is to make what she called some strategic investments.

"We are really proud of this moment," Murphy said. "It is because of the hard work of so many people across the state of Minnesota that we are in this strong position economically, and as a result of the work that we're taking up today, we're going to continue to see strong growth."

Republicans had criticized Democrats for rolling all of individual spending plans into one bill. But one of their proposed amendments took the same comprehensive approach, offering a significantly trimmed down spending plan. It was $72 million cheaper than the DFL bill.

"It is because of the hard work of so many people across the state of Minnesota that we are in this strong position economically."

Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, urged Democrats to show some fiscal restraint.

"There is an insatiable out-of-control desire by the DFL to spend money. You can't possibly stop yourselves," Garofalo said.

The biggest slice of the $323 million House bill is $91 million for health and human services programs. Most of it will provide a 5 percent increase for home and community based workers who care for the elderly and disabled.

Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said he was happy that increase was included.

"As some of you know, I was a little upset last year that we gave a 5 percent raise to nursing home workers but did not give a 5 percent rate to home and community based workers, who basically do the same job as nursing homes people. So this evens that out," he said.

"There is an insatiable out-of-control desire by the DFL to spend money."

Republicans support the increase for home health care providers too, but were unable to back the larger bill and its overall level of spending. GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt of Crown warned that the ongoing spending commitments in the bill will set the stage for a future budget deficit.

"You just keep spending with no plan, with no fiscal accountability, and you're driving the state right back into another deficit. Who cares? We've got a surplus this year, let's spend it," Daudt said.

The bill provides $75 million for public schools, including a 1 percent increase in the basic funding formula. There's also money for early childhood education and school lunches. An additional $17 million is for colleges and universities. Rep. Paul Marquart, DFL-Dilworth, said the funding formula will increase by $58 per student.

"These dollars go out to schools to allow them to work to get to the goals of the world's best workforce. It allows schools flexibility to be able to meet those goals in the local ways in which they want to do that."

There's nearly $50 million in the bill for transportation spending, including $25 million to help cities and counties fix potholes after a hard winter.

Democrats in the Minnesota Senate are assembling their own supplemental spending measure, with a vote expected next week. Negotiations will then begin with the House to resolve several differences.

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