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Political Notebook: GOP asks gov. to enter state budget talks

ST. PAUL -- Republicans who took control of the Minnesota Legislature in last year's election constantly have said they are moving more quickly than previous lawmakers.

And while they did pass initial budget bills earlier than normal, the question now is when there will be a deal with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.

"I don't have them," the governor said Friday about spending bills that are being negotiated between the House and Senate.

"I'm available," he said.

Dayton refuses to negotiate with legislative leaders until they work out differences between House and Senate budget plans.

The governor reminded reporters that he unveiled his budget proposal on Feb. 15. "Where's theirs?"

"We all share the same constitutional obligation," he reminded lawmakers about balancing the state budget.

Dayton's stance befuddles Republicans.

"We are looking for some agreement, we are looking for some engagement," Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said. "What we really need is for the governor to get engaged."

Even as they ask Dayton to talk budget specifics, House and Senate leaders have not told their budget negotiators how much they can spend in each area of state government. Until then, negotiators cannot wrap up their bills.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said that she and other legislative leaders are waiting for Dayton to set those budget targets, but they likely will come in the coming days even if Dayton does not get involved.

No subsidies

Putting casinos at horse-racing tracks draws opposition for several reasons, mostly because many Democrats do not want to hurt American Indian casinos and many Republicans oppose gambling on moral grounds.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, added a new reason during a "racino" debate, saying the state should not subsidize the horse industry. Many of those who support a racino say a primary reason for the idea is to help the horse industry by allowing tracks to pay larger purses.

"A lot of us complained about the federal government helping General Motors, and helping other entities and bailing things out," Howes said. "I don't think it's our job to bail out any industry."

Hann to D.C.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, spent a couple of days in Washington, D.C., trying to round up support for giving Minnesota freedom from some federal health-care regulations.

Hann says the plan could save the state millions of dollars.

Upon returning, Hann said that he received support of most of the state's congressional delegation to push for such relief if state lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton agree. However, Dayton said that he does not like the idea and does not expect the Obama administration to agree to the Minnesota Republican plan.

Without Obama administration officials offering the flexibility, Republican budget plans would be short of money.

Hann said he did not try to meet with Obama officials while in Washington.

Dayton did not think much of the Hann trip: "Anyone heading to D.C. for advice on resolving a budget deficit is headed in the wrong direction."

Wolves 'serious threat'

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., praises a federal decision to remove Minnesota gray wolves from the list of threatened species.

"There can be no argument that wolves have experienced a dramatic comeback in Minnesota where we now have more wolves than the rest of the lower 48 states combined," Cravaack said. "Unfortunately, with no predators and not enough natural prey, gray wolves now pose a serious threat to cattle ranchers and sheep herders. ... Federally de-listing the gray wolf will allow better management at the state level and create a healthier wolf population, all while reducing the amount of contact and conflict between humans and wolves."

Bill to help biofuels

Biofuels such as ethanol receive support in a new U.S. Senate bill.

Introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota, Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, with four others, the bill is written to spur energy innovation.

The senators say fuels mixed with plant-based products helped reduce gasoline prices by 89 cents a gallon last year.

"The United States has the ability to be the global leader in energy because of the ingenuity of our farmers and manufacturers," Democrat Klobuchar said. "At a time of rising gas prices, this bill would provide more efficient incentives and private investment that can help us utilize more homegrown biofuels, strengthen our homegrown energy economy in Minnesota, and secure our energy future with new infrastructure for biofuels."

Added Franken: "Minnesota has been a leader in renewable fuels since the beginning, and the ethanol tax credit has been an important part of getting us there. Now it's time to invest in ethanol infrastructure to create the market access for cellulosic ethanol and other advanced biofuels."

The bill would provide new tax incentives for ethanol, now mostly a corn-based fuel. Other tax biofuel tax breaks also are included.

Ethanol makes up 10 percent of the American fuel supply.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.