Lawmakers begin to pick at Pawlenty budget fixby Tom Scheck, Minnesota Public Radio
Committees in both the House and Senate held hearings on Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget plan Monday. Several lawmakers trashed it, saying it cuts too many vital services and doesn't address the long term needs of the state.
St. Paul, Minn. — On Friday, the governor proposed a budget plan that uses a mix of spending cuts, money from the budget reserve and money from the health care access fund to resolve the state's $935 million shortfall.
Immediately after the budget announcement, DFL lawmakers said they would keep an open mind on the governor's proposal. That didn't last past the weekend.
"My concern is how much of this solution is sound-bite and how much is substance," said Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona.
Pelowski said he was mostly troubled that the governor is using one-time money from the budget reseve and health care fund to erase half of the projected budget deficit. Pelowski said that will fix the current two year budget but will not solve the budget issue in future years.
"Whoever is here in the next legislative session is still going to have this problem," he said. "We're just going to solve it once. So it's really a nice sound-bite, but it's really not a solution to the problem."
Pelowski made those comments during a hearing in the House Finance Committee.
State finance commissioner Tom Hanson told the committee the governor's budget proposal fixes the current budget problem and erases 40 percent of the deficit in the next two year budget. Hanson said the hope is the economy will turn around.
"We're going to use some one-time sources now, a prudent use of budget cuts to try to soften the impact and we'll see how the economy does in the next year," he said. "We have two more forecasts and a federal stimulus that will kick in."
Other Democrats complained that the governor's proposal cuts too much from Health and Human Services programs. More than half of the governor's cuts come in that area.
Rep. Nora Slawik, DFL-Maplewood, said those cuts are unacceptable.
One hundred-and-eighty-seven million dollars in HHS cuts, $92 million in TANF transfers, $250 million from the Health Care Access fund," she said. "Really, you're going after this time and time again on those who are the most needy."
Commissioner Hanson argued that no one will lose health care eligibility under the governor's proposal. The proposal does, however, prevent more people from enrolling into a state subsidized health insurance program on July 1. The governor's plan also cuts funding for long term care.
Other lawmakers criticized proposed cuts to higher education, the courts and metro transit. Republican House Minority Leader Marty Seifert said Democrats who are complaining about the cuts will have to come up with something better.
"I was a little bit surprised by the criticism I heard because if they don't want to raise taxes and don't want to cut spending, I don't know how they're going to balance the budget," he said.
Seifert is predicting DFLers will put forward a tax increase despite repeated statements by DFL leaders that tax increases are unlikely this session.
The tax and spend debate is also branching outside of the Capitol. Gov. Pawlenty's campaign started running radio ads urging listeners to tell DFL legislators to not raise taxes.
- All Things Considered, 03/10/2008, 5:19 p.m.