Pawlenty says he'll veto tax increasesby Elizabeth Dunbar, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) - Gov. Tim Pawlenty says he will veto tax increase proposals moving through the DFL-controlled Legislature.
The Senate votes Friday on a package of broad income tax hikes, and a House bill raising taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and the highest earners gets a vote Saturday.
The governor is also criticizing a House public school bill that would hold funding flat. Pawlenty's plan would increase aid to schools. The House bill is expected to get a vote Thursday.
After a 12-hour session in the House the night before, both the Senate and House were gearing up for long debates on more spending bills Thursday.
The House was ready to tackle both early childhood and K-12 education, along with a bill that funds the Legislature and state government offices. The Senate expected votes on budget bills for transportation projects and the environment.
The House approved spending bills for agriculture, veterans, environmental initiatives, colleges and universities during a marathon session Wednesday that went just past midnight.
The debates showed there will be remaining disagreements over which programs deserve priority when it comes to avoiding cuts.
While the Agriculture Department would take an 8 percent cut under the House's plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans homes received a small boost by tapping about $9 million in unused educational aid for veterans.
The House also chose to use federal money to protect college students from dramatic tuition hikes, though the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system will see a wage and hiring freeze.
The longest debate was on a combined environment and energy bill that would fund programs under agencies including the Departments of Commerce and Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency. The proposal would cut most programs by just under 7 percent.
Federal money was one of the lone bright spots in a very long night.
"Thank heavens for the stimulus package," said Democratic Rep. Tom Rukavina of Virginia just before the House voted 86-46 to approve his higher education bill.
Stimulus money also showed up in the environment bill, directing nearly $200 million for energy projects and weatherizing homes. But that money - along with new constitutional money for the environment and outdoors coming from sales tax revenues - won't offset the cuts. The environment bill passed on an 85-46 vote.
Both the House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, but leaders are carrying out different strategies for filling the state's two-year, $4.6 billion budget gap.
The Senate's budget bills have contained across-the-board cuts. Not even education has been spared, though federal stimulus money helped lessen reductions to that area. The House is expected to avoid cuts to education when it takes up the early childhood and K-12 funding bills.
Colleges and universities get a slight increase over current funding levels under Rukavina's bill, which would use $180 million in federal stimulus money to hold down tuition for the next two years. It would cap tuition increases at $300 a year at the University of Minnesota and at 2 percent a year at MnSCU schools.
The higher education bill also would prevent the University of Minnesota from limiting alcohol sales to premium seating areas in the new Gopher football stadium set to open on Sept. 12. A university liquor license would have to apply to the entire stadium or not at all.
The farm and military bill would cut ethanol subsidies by 20 percent, or $6 million over the next two years. A move to eliminate ethanol subsidies failed 49-80.
Republicans proposed several successful amendments to spend more on disabled and homeless veterans and the veterans homes. Sponsor Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, adjusted the changes so the money would come from the Agriculture Department's administrative budget instead of specific farm programs.
But the overall bill was approved on a 83-49 vote mostly along party lines. Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, argued against the bill, saying the cuts to agriculture were unfair.
"The largest industry in the state is agriculture," he said. "Our priorities are wrong."
Juhnke said he and other members of the Agriculture Committee tried to find ways to limit the impact of the cuts.
"We did the best we could," he said.
Associated Press Writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)