Senate Democrats turn to checking account, cuts to fix deficitby Martiga Lohn, Associated Press
St. Paul (AP) — Senate Democrats offered a deficit fix Friday that would drain the state's checking account and go after the Republican National Convention, E-85 ethanol fuel and other items close to Gov. Tim Pawlenty's heart. The Senate Finance Committee pored over spreadsheets detailing the proposed solution to a projected $935 million shortfall. It includes emptying a $350 million cash flow account, siphoning $100 million from the state's budget reserve and cutting health, welfare and other state programs.
The plan omits a $14 million guarantee for the Republican National Convention coming to St. Paul in September, a backup for fundraisers if they miss their goals. Nor would it fund the GOP governor's proposed Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development program for small businesses in rural Minnesota.
Other cuts would hit the Positive Alternatives program encouraging unexpectedly pregnant women to bear their children, a grant program that helps gas stations install E-85 pumps and layers of political appointees in state agencies.
Nearly $200 million would be culled from health and welfare programs, including trims to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program for predators confined to treatment by the courts.
Finance Committee Chairman Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, said there weren't many places to trim once public schools were taken off the table. They would get a small increase under his plan.
The Senate budget would also shield transit and a dedicated health care account from Pawlenty's cuts and lessen the pain for colleges, universities and the courts.
Like the House DFL proposal, the Senate plan would tap the cash flow account instead of the Health Care Access Fund targeted by Pawlenty to help fill the gap.
But Senate Democrats had a lighter touch when it came to the reserve. Their plan would leave a fatter balance than either the House or Pawlenty would.
Cohen said the money might be needed if Minnesota's financial problems spill into the next budget cycle.
"It's no secret to anybody here that problems will continue," he said. "There's the suggestion that things might be significantly worse."
Release of the Senate and House budget blueprints is a prelude to end-of-session negotiations with Pawlenty.