Budget focus?

Finance committees in the Minnesota House and Senate begin assembling several budget bills this week that would help erase a $5 billion deficit without raising taxes.

Republican leaders unveiled budget targets last week that show significant spending reductions in social services, higher education and state aid to local government. Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said committees have until March 25 to fill in the blanks on the budget bills.

“As we’ve told our members, as we’ve told the minority members, buckle in because the next several weeks are going to be evening meetings, weekend meetings, Friday meetings,” Koch said. “Things are going to get very busy and focused on the budget for the next several weeks.”

The budget work hasn’t stopped Republicans from also considering several controversial policy proposals this week. One Senate committee takes up voter identification bills Monday, while another hears a bill that would change bargaining rights for teachers and a House panel takes up private-school vouchers. Later in the week there are hearings on bills to ban abortions after 20 weeks, to ban human cloning and to allow Sunday liquor sales. In addition, two Republican Senators are holding a news conference Monday morning to to announce a “pension reform bill.”

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