House passes Phase 1 budget plan

The Minnesota House took its first step in addressing Minnesota’s massive budget deficit. The House voted 68-63 this evening for a bill that cuts $1 billion in state funding. The major cuts are to aid to cities and counties and higher education. The bill also would require the governor to cut $200 million out of the budget for the curent fiscal year.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers says the bill is a good first step in erasing a projected $6.2 billion budget deficit and he thinks Governor Dayton should sign it.

“We’re trying to help him out here a little bit,” Zellers said. “This is some money that he can take off of the bottom line. We can put this in the forecast. Come the end of November, excuse me, February when we get that forecast it will look a little less worse you could say.”

Four Republicans, all in their first term, joined every Democrat in opposing the bill. Rep. King Banaian of St. Cloud, Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston, Rep. John Kriesel of Cottage Grove and Rep. Rich Murray of Albert Lea voted against the bill. They didn’t respond to e-mail requests to explain why they bucked their party and voted against the bill. (Update: See below for responses by Banaian, Kriesel and Murray). Banaian and Murray were in close elections that required automatic recounts.

Gov. Dayton is asking Republicans who control the House and Senate to hold off on sending him the bill. Instead, he says he wants a big picture approach to the $6.2 billion budget deficit.

“$1 billion in only a sixth of what’s necessary and it leaves out some other very difficult decisions,” Dayton said. “I think they need to make those decisions in their totality.”

Dayton will release his budget plan on February 15th. GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch says she hopes to pass their version of the bill next week.

House and Senate negotiators hope to reconcile any differences on the bill and send it to the governor before that.

Here’s Kriesel’s response:

“I fully understand that our deficit and spending are both out of control and require serious attention. Difficult choices must be made. HF130 had some good common sense ideas in addressing the spending problem that Minnesota has, but it fell short for me. It didn’t fall short because it failed to cut enough, but rather it fell short because it was too vague and did not include many items that I support and feel would get us closer to a balanced budget.”

Murray, who switched his yes vote to a no vote at the last minute, called me back and said he voted against the bill because he didn’t think it was fair to Albert Lea and surrounding communities. He noted that Albert Lea’s Mayor, the city council and the Albert Lea Chamber all spoke out against the bill. He said he needs to have a conversation with Albert Lea officials about the future of LGA in tough budget times.

Banaian sent me this e-mail outlining his vote:

I voted against the bill because the budget cuts reflected priorities from a previous legislature and governor, not reflecting the considered opinion of newly elected officials. Those priorities imposed a heavier burden on my district than many others, including cuts to higher education and their impact on MnSCU. Not only was the cut to higher education double our share of the budget but it was also disproportionately towards MnSCU due to unwinding of spending required by ARRA dollars. I continue to work towards a solution to wisely spend the $32 billion we will receive in the next biennium that reflects new priorities.

Zellers says he hopes to send the bill to Dayton before February 10th.

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