GOP wants to avoid government ‘Christmas in June’

Nornes

Republicans who control the Minnesota Legislature say they want $200 million cut from the budget that ends June 30.

Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg of the House Ways and Means Committee said a bill being introduced today is designed in part to end what she called “Christmas in June,” a state government tradition of spending down what is left in an agency’s budget as the budget cycle ends.

Holberg, R-Lakeville, and other GOP leaders said the $200 million figure is “soft” and they have not talked to Minnesota Management and Budget, the department that controls state spending.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, talked about the delivery of a large number of chairs in June, days before the end of the budget. They apparently were bought because money remained.

Holberg said a former state worker told her that he was given a new laptop computer days before his job ended.

The bill, which could pass the Legislature next week, tells Minnesota Management and budget to find the $200 million in savings. Republicans say it begins the task of eliminating a projected $6.2 billion deficit in the next budget.

Beyond the current budget, the bill also makes permanent about $840 million of cuts then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty made, in a process known as unallotment, to balance the current budget. However, lawmakers could change those numbers late during this session.

Hardest hit in the next budget would be state payments to local governments, such as Local Government Aid. The bill reduces those payments $460 million in the two-year budget that begins July 1.

Holberg said the Legislature will reform Local Government Aid, which goes to cities, so cities that really need the aid still receive it. So LGA cuts in the next budget likely would not be equal for all cities that get the help, mostly Minneapolis, St. Paul and rural cities.

While Republicans said the cuts should not surprise city leaders, the president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities was not happy.

“Released just two weeks into the session, this proposal shortchanges the over 50 new legislators from learning more about the state budget, LGA and this proposals’ impacts on their communities,” Park Rapids Mayor Nancy Carroll said. “We are deeply concerned that politicians who are calling for ‘reforming LGA’ have started the legislative session without any substantive policy conversation, but rather a blanket proposal that is simply another cut.  In short, this proposal has zero reform and is just more of the same: a continued shift in the tax burden onto middle class families and businesses and deep cuts to the communities they call home.”

The GOP plan also would trim higher education spending $185 million and health and human services budgets $72 million.

Chairman Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls, of the House Higher Education Committee said he did not know how much students or the public would notice college and university cuts. But he said his committee will hold a hearing on the issue Thursday.

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