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Legislature sends $900M budget cutting bill to Dayton

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton soon will have a bill on his desk that could set up the first major dispute between him and the Legislature.

Senators passed on a 37-28 Thursday vote a bill cutting $824 million from the nest two-year state budget and $100 million from the budget that ends June 30. The House voted 68-61 a day earlier for the bill that went through a conference committee this week to work out small differences in bills the House and Senate passed earlier.

The Republican-written budget bill, a first step in plugging a $6.2 billion state budget deficit, faces a potential veto when it reaches Democrat Dayton. He has not said whether he will veto the measure, but he has been critical of passing a bill that only tackles part of the budget problem and he was not involved in writing the bill.

"What we are doing today is poking the governor in the eye with a stick," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said

Senate Finance Chairwoman Claire Robling, R-Jordan, compared the bill to her hobby, gardening, in which she finds it easier to pull weeds over a period of time instead of all at once. It is a lot easier "if I do it in steps," she said.

Cuts in the next budget would be reductions in what currently is planned to be spent, but Republicans want to reduce those expectations.

The bill would hold local government payments from the state to current levels, but Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said even at that level local officials will be forced to raise property taxes $322 million.

While most of the bill cuts spending, one provision removes a limit on how much landowners can receive from a state program designed to encourage sustainable forests. The bill eliminates the $100,000 cap on those payments.

Of five large forest owners that benefit from eliminating the cap, three (Blandin Paper Co., Potlatch Corp. and Meriwether Land and Timber) sued the state over the issue. They claim they lost $8 million to the payment limit.

Senate Tax Chairwoman Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, said the lawsuit led to the decision to lift the payment limit.

Bakk said that raising the payments will cost the state $11 million. The decision came with no public testimony during a 32-minute conference committee meeting.

Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, said he is concerned that requiring $100 million cuts in the next few months could eliminate or reduce spending on some veterans and military programs, such as help to pay tuitions, veterans' home repairs and re-enlistment incentives.

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.