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Phase 1 budget cuts OK'd

Sens. Gary Kubly of Granite Falls, left, Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids talk during Monday's Senate session. Senators took more than 100 votes, including on a conference committee bill to balance a third of the state budget. (Don Davis/Forum Communications Co.)

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty plans to sign a budget-cutting bill that plugs a third of Minnesota's nearly $1 billion deficit.

The House and Senate on Monday approved the compromise bill cutting $312 million, mostly with Democratic-Farmer-Laborite votes.

After a week-long break that started Monday afternoon, lawmakers will return to St. Paul on April 6, preparing to debate a new bill, not yet finished, cutting health and human services programs. After that, Democrats who control the Legislature plan to bring up a public school funding measure, but promise to try not to cut education.

No one said they were thrilled with the budget-cutting bill.

"The hurt is just starting," Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said. "When the other bills come through, the hurt is going to be worse."

In the House, the bill passed 76-55. Rukavina and two other Democratic House committee finance chairmen, Reps. Al Juhnke of Willmar and Mindy Greiling of Roseville, voted against it.

Senators approved the measure 44-23.

Pawlenty's spokesman said the Republican chief executive would prefer a comprehensive budget plan, but during the weekend accepted the legislative bill.

"While the governor would prefer the DFL present a complete solution, we can't force them to do it, so we're doing our best to work with what they're offering," Brian McClung said, adding that, barring a surprise buried in the bill, Pawlenty will sign it. "Moving forward, the DFL should keep in mind that we're not going to raise taxes, so phases 2 and 3 are going to require significant additional cuts in order to balance the budget."

The governor and the House both count on a few hundred million federal dollars to help fix the deficit.

Republicans, who roundly criticized the bill, generally have wanted to balance the budget based mostly on cuts.

"I am fascinated, just fascinated that Republicans don't want to cut the budget," House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said after hearing them speak against the proposal.

The budget situation came about because the recession has dramatically reduced taxes flowing into the state treasury.

Pawlenty chopped $2.7 billion out of what was a $34 billion, two-year budget. While the state Supreme Court reviews his cuts, legislators discovered the economy led to another nearly $1 billion deficit, which they are tackling in three steps this legislative session.

The House and Senate earlier passed similar first-phase budget-cutting bills, but they differed enough that negotiators needed to last week to work out the compromise that passed Monday.

The chief House budget negotiator, Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, said a major difference between the first bill and the one approved Monday was that a $25 million mutual fund fee increase is not included because Pawlenty opposes it.

Among the biggest cuts was $105 million to local governments, less than half of what Pawlenty proposed but far more than Democrats said should happen.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, questioned nearly $23 million of public safety cuts.

"I'm still concerned and we should all be concerned about public safety," he said. "It's getting to extreme measures at the Department of Corrections."

Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this story. Tellijohn and Davis report 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.