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Minnesota legislature approves budget to end shutdown

By Reuters
Wednesday, July 20, 2011 8:03 EDT
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MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – The Minnesota legislature approved on Wednesday in a marathon special session all the budget bills needed to end a state government shutdown that has lasted nearly three weeks.

Called to a special session on Tuesday afternoon, the state House and Senate approved all 12 bills put to it, including mammoth health and human services and education bills that were approved in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The bills will be forwarded to Democratic Governor Mark Dayton, who brokered the deal with Republican leaders to end the shutdown, the longest in state history.

Dayton has said he would sign the bills quickly to end the shutdown and resume normal operations. It is expected to take some time to restart all of the state operations.

Dayton, Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers and Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch had said on Tuesday they were hoping to wrap up the session quickly.

The state’s political leaders had agreed to limit the legislative session to a dozen bills over two days covering spending and capital projects in the two-year budget, with no amendments.

More than 22,000 state workers were furloughed when Minnesota political leaders failed to reach a deal to close a projected $5 billion budget deficit by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.

State parks, historic sites, rest stops, the state lottery and two horse tracks remain closed, and about 100 road construction projects were suspended until the shutdown officially ends.

The debates leading up to the shutdown included Democratic calls for additional revenue and Republican vows to halt spending increases that have mirrored those in the nation’s capital over the debt ceiling.

The bills approved by the House and Senate provide for a variety of spending programs and include about $500 million of bonding for capital projects. The legislature normally passes bonding bills in even-numbered years.

AN UNHAPPY COMPROMISE

Democratic House Minority Leader Representative Paul Thissen called the framework a “beg, borrow and steal budget” and had urged a “no” vote on the proposed tax bill. It passed on party lines.

“While the budget agreement was not the most ideal to anyone, it was time to compromise, end the shutdown and put Minnesota back to work,” Republican Deputy Majority Leader Geoff Michel said afterward in a statement.

The governor and legislative leaders had announced a tentative deal on Thursday, then worked out the details of what was estimated by nonpartisan staff at about $34.3 billion of spending for the fiscal years 2012 and 2013.

All three have said they were unhappy with the plan but believed they must support the compromise. It stripped out tax increases Dayton had sought as well as some social policy changes Republicans wanted. It also had higher spending levels than Republicans were seeking.

The deal closes a gap between the Dayton and Republican spending plans by delaying more than $700 million of payments to schools and issuing $640 million of bonds using revenue from a tobacco industry settlement.

Economists have said those proposed budget fixes would push Minnesota’s longer term fiscal problems into the next two-year state budget and also make them slightly worse.

The negotiations over the budget details occurred behind closed doors at the Capitol over the last several days.

Democratic Representative Michael Paymar said he was “disgusted” by the legislative process and called it a lost opportunity for a balanced approach to closing the budget gap.

House Majority Leader Matt Dean said he shared the concern about missed opportunities, but blamed the failure on what he said was the governor’s “preoccupation” with raising taxes.

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

Source: Reuters US Online Report Domestic News

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