GOP lawmakers take aim at Dayton's budget plan

Last week, Republicans were muted in their criticism of Gov. Mark Dayton's budget plan as the governor revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

But on Monday, they didn't hold back.

Dayton's nearly $45.8 billion budget builds on spending increases already in state law and uses almost all of the projected $1.4 billion surplus.

Overall, general fund spending would increase by about 10 percent over current levels. Much of the new spending in Dayton's plan is aimed at education, health care and jobs programs.

Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans defended the spending during a House Ways and Means Committee hearing Monday.

"The funding that the governor is providing is what we need in order to invest in Minnesota to give the services that Minnesotans want," Frans said.

Republicans concerned about the growth of state government didn't like the commissioner's phrasing. Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, told Frans that he was flabbergasted that the governor is trying to satisfy both needs and wants.

"Needs could be characterized or understood to be finite in their description. But wants are almost infinite," he said. "You know, commissioner, I want a new truck."

The governor's plan to create a new "public option" health insurance choice for Minnesotans by allowing people to buy into the MinnesotaCare program and continue a health-care related tax also drew GOP criticism.

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, said the proposals were "unfathomable."

"We are one of two states in the country with a basic health plan," he said. "We're going to double down on that and hurt reimbursement rates for our small hospitals in greater Minnesota even more than they're already stretched."

Democrats defended the governor's plan.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL- Rochester, said Minnesota needs to be ready for the still-unknown changes that Congress is expected to make in health care policy.

"We've been a leading state on health care for many, many years," she said. "I do not think Minnesotans will be happy if we stopped, if people weren't able to get health care that they need. And very importantly, we have very large health care industry."

House and Senate budget committees will spend the next couple of weeks digging into specific areas of the governor's proposal. Republican leaders will then put together their own budget plan.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he wants to find ways to trim spending in order to cut taxes by more than the $300 million Dayton has proposed, which he called a number Republicans would treat as a starting point.

"We want to make sure that we're looking at actually bringing relief back to the taxpayer," he said. "So again, that's the negotiation process."

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