‘Fuzzy math’ claims cloud session budget talks

Piper and Frans
Commissioners Emily Piper and Myron Frans share their concerns about budget bills during a state Capitol news conference. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s top financial advisor has delivered a harsh critique of the Republican budget bills that have made their way through the House and Senate and will soon be the focus on intense negotiations.

Minnesota Management and Budget commissioner Myron Frans held a state Capitol news conference Wednesday to say the budget proposal Dayton released in January and updated last month is fiscally responsible, while the House and Senate GOP plans are not.

“The Legislature’s math just does not add up,” Frans said.

Frans accused Republican leaders of using “fuzzy math,” as well as “phony savings” and delayed payments to pay for a large tax cut bill. He suggested many of the bills could be headed for vetoes if not altered.

Frans highlighted several examples in the finance bills for Health and Human Services and State Government.

“The legislative budget bills we have seen are not serious attempts to govern Minnesota," Frans said. The bills are designed to be talking points to start negotiations with the governor from an imaginary position, a made up starting point if you will.”

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For example, Frans said the House HHS bill, scheduled for floor action Friday, “manufactures” savings of $321 million by not accounting for inflation in the Medical Assistance program and “assuming” that the state can weed out ineligible people from health care programs.

Department of Human Services commissioner Emily Piper said the spending reductions in the House and Senate bills would have significant impacts on programs and the people they serve.

“If these cuts go through, it would require reductions in our major facilities, the work that we do, and cuts to staff that perform really great work all across the state,” Piper said.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, took issue with the administration’s analysis and countered with his own criticism of Dayton, who he accused of being “out of touch” with most Minnesotans.

Daudt blamed Dayton, who is not seeking re-election next year, for failing to make state government operate more efficiently and failing to slow down the spending growth in human services programs.

“If the governor thinks that’s great, and that’s good prosperity and that that’s how Minnesota should operate, I think Minnesotans need to start looking for a new governor,” Daudt said.

Daudt, who is a likely GOP candidate for governor in 2018, said he was disappointed by the administration's talk of vetoes for bills that have not been finalized. He said it raises the political rhetoric to a new level.

“We hope to get the governor’s input and put bills on the governor’s desk that he can sign,” he said.