Legislative notebook: First budget-cut bill advances to Thursday vote

A Republican-sponsored bill cutting $1 billion from Minnesota’s budget is headed for a full House vote, probably on Thursday.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill 18-13 Monday to reduce spending in several areas by more than $800 million in the next two years and ask the Dayton administration to trim $200 million by June 30.

City and county aids would be reduced more than $400 million below what cities expected in the next two-year budget, but it would increase to previously planned levels after that.

House Tax Chairman Greg Davids, R-Preston, said more cuts are possible later this legislative session, but under the bill considered Monday no local government “is getting less than they received in 2010″ unless they already have agreed to less.

Also in the bill is a two-year pay freeze for state employee salaries.

“We have to do some things that are uncomfortable,” said Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, said that the freeze essentially eliminates state workers’ right to negotiate contract for two years.

Gunther responded that if the Legislature does not freeze pay, “we are going to have to lay off a lot of people completely.”

Gov. Mark Dayton has expressed reservations about the bill, but has not said he would veto it.

While the bill takes the first bite out of a $6.2 billion budget deficit, much of the remaining four months of the legislative session will be taken up producing a two-year budget of more than $30 billion. Dayton plans to present his budget plan on Feb. 15.

 Quicker permits ordered

Gov. Mark Dayton Monday ordered two state agencies to issue permits quicker.

Under his order, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources must try to issue permits within 150 days, down from the current informal 180-day guideline.

The order is designed to speed up permits businesses need before expanding or building new facilities. Among the more complex permits are those that are needed for mines to open; before they are issued, extensive studies of environmental impacts are required.

“This is going to be an on-going process,” Dayton said, adding the he hopes it encourages hundreds of businesses to look at Minnesota after years of what sometimes is a long, slow permitting process.

“Time is money,” the governor said.

Dayton and Republican legislative leaders agree on the need to speed permits.

House File 1, which is a GOP priority, does much the same as the executive order. But the bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, goes a bit beyond what Dayton could do by himself.

Fabian’s bill advanced through a second House committee Monday, with at least one more committee stop before reaching a full House vote.

Commissioner Paul Aasen of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said that among the order’s requirements is increasing the use of electronic permit applications.

Business leaders say that speeding the permitting process is one of the major things lawmakers can do to help encourage businesses to create jobs.

House and Senate Republicans, who control the Legislature, offered differing views of the order.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, called it a good first step.

However, House Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, was not happy with the order, calling it “concerning.”

“We find his actions today to be counterproductive to the legislative process and his stated commitment to work together on these common ground issues,” Dean said Monday, saying Dayton rushed into the order even though a House bill is making progress.

Rural caucus starts

Rural Republican lawmakers have formed a caucus to discuss issues that affect their districts.

Some of the members originally planned to start a bipartisan rural caucus, but it is a GOP-only organization.

Co-chairmen of the caucus are southwestern Minnesota lawmakers who also lead the two chambers’ agriculture committees: Sen. Doug Magnus of Slayton and Rep. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake.

Others elected to the executive committee were Sen. David Senjem of Rochester, Rep. Mary Franson of Alexandria and Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick of Deer River.

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