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Fighting intense over scarce funds

Rep. Larry Howes of Walker was one of only a few Republicans on Monday to vote for a bill cutting $313 million out of the state budget. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- The fight for increasingly scarce state money is getting heated.

As lawmakers approved trimming Minnesota spending by $313 million Monday, rural and urban representatives fought over some of the remaining money.

"Greater Minnesota gets the short end of everything we do around there," Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake said in joining Rep. Doug Magnus of Slayton and other rural Republicans in trying to take money away from the seven-county Twin Cities area and give it to communities elsewhere.

Rural lawmakers lost their efforts to increase state aid to their areas, but Democrats who wrote the first of three bills pointed out that the plan they passed takes a much smaller bite out of local aids.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty is proposing $250 million vs. nearly $105 million by Democrats.

The overall bill passed the Senate 43-23 and the House 80-51, mostly with Democratic votes.

With a $944 million deficit, bills that passed Monday trim $313 million in programs through most of state government other than health and human services and public school education programs. Those two areas are due to be debated after lawmakers return in early April from a week-long Passover-Easter break.

The Phase 1 House and Senate budget bills differ, so they will be sent to negotiators to produce a compromise. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has not said if he will sign or veto the bill.

The state budget is $31 billion for the two years ending June 30, 2011. However, the recession has reduced the amount of taxes flowing into state government, forcing the $944 million cut.

Pawlenty already has cut $2.7 billion from the budget lawmakers approved a year ago, but the Supreme Court is considering that action's legality. If all or much of the action is overturned, lawmakers say they will go back and look at the budget again.

Rural Republican representatives targeted funding now received by Minneapolis and St. Paul, and, in some cases, Duluth.

Most Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party rural lawmakers opposed the effort.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said the debate really was not urban-rural. He voted against the bill.

"This is an argument between those who want to starve government and people who think government still can help people," he said. "I am one of the latter."

In the end, the Senate and House decided to keep local aid payment in the same ratios as now, cutting from city and county aids less than Pawlenty suggested.

Much of the Senate debate was on Pawlenty's full budget, which failed 56-10.

Senators voted to increase fees on mutual fund sales, bringing the state more than $27 million. The House bill already counted on increase fees.

Republicans complained that Pawlenty's budget short-changed public safety, but less so than the DFL-prepared budgets.

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.