St. Paul -
The House and Senate acted quickly to pass the smaller sized budget bills. In two hours, the two chambers passed five budget bills: the transportation funding bill, the jobs and economic development bill, the environment budget bill, the public safety and judiciary bill and the higher education budget bill. Those bills are all on their way to Governor Dayton's desk.
Most of the bills passed with relative ease and with limited debate. The biggest question mark was whether the Senate would vote to pass the higher education bill. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a group that lobbies against legalized abortion, has criticized GOP leaders in the House and Senate for removing a provision that would ban human cloning. MCCL's executive director Scott Fischbach is married to Senate President Michelle Fischbach, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee and carried the higher ed bill, said she was disappointed the provision was removed from the bill.
"It was already in session law for the last two years so now we have removed that," Fischbach said. "I think that was legislation that we should have kept in this bill in order to protect that and use state funds wisely."
Fischbach ended up voting against her own bill, as did
several other Republican members. GOP Sen. Ray Vandeveer.
While the House and Senate worked at rapid speed in the first half of the evening, there's no certainty that pace will continue. The larger budget bills; health and human services, K-12, state government finance and taxes have yet to be debated. The tax bill includes a controversial measure that borrows $700 million against future tobacco payments. The K12 bill includes a $2.1 billion school shift.
Democrats have been highly critical of the financing of the budget regardless of Gov. Dayton's support. Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, says said the budget plan was irresponsible.
"We need to be honest," Hornstein said. "It's the first of nine budget bills that simply defers important budget decisions into the future. Now is the time to address these issues, not procrastinate and not put them off into the future.
Dayton says he intends to sign the budget bills all at once after the Legislature sends them to him. The shutdown will end after he signs the bill into law.
Meanwhile, Dayton's administration is preparing to restart government services that have been shuttered for 19 days. Dayton's chief of staff Tina Smith and Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter say it could take a few weeks before government services are operating at the level prior to state government shutdown on July 1.
"We will bring two values to this," Smith said. "One is urgency and the other is common sense."
Neither Smith nor Schowalter could say when state parks, transportation projects, Canterbury Park Horse Track and other services will be up and running again.
"Just because the bill is passed or you see it on your TV that does not mean that agency is up and running," Schowalter said.
Schowalter said it takes about a day for appropriations to be directed one day after Dayton signs the budget bills into law.
He said they will announce on their website what the recall plans are for the 22,000 state employees who have been laid off. Here's the link.
Patricia Torres Ray (DFL-Minneapolis) sits in the Senate chamber during a 1am recess on July 20, 2011 Photo Credit: Nikki Tundel
To clarify, what was removed from the Higher Ed bill was a ban on taxpayer funding of human cloning, not a ban on human cloning. The same funding ban was passed by the Legislature in 2009 as session law, which expired June 30, 2011.