GOP Pushes ‘smarter Government’ Spending Plan

Three Minnesota House committee chairmen brief reporters Wednesday, April 27, 2016, on spending legislation. From left are Reps. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Denny McNamara of Hastings. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Three Minnesota House committee chairmen brief reporters Wednesday, April 27, 2016, on spending legislation. From left are Reps. Rod Hamilton of Mountain Lake, Pat Garofalo of Farmington and Denny McNamara of Hastings. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Republicans want to finish a southwest Minnesota water project, kill the state film board, fund a tractor safety program, get rid of two business economic development programs and help Mille Lacs Lake-area businesses suffering from walleye fishing restrictions.

All of that is part of what the GOP says would come without raising overall state spending.

Democrats say a massive bill the House passed 72-54 Wednesday, after nearly five hours of mostly partisan debate and votes, missed an opportunity to help Minnesotans because it does not use money from an expected $900 million state budget surplus; it only moved money from one pocket to another, so some existing programs would shrink or disappear.

The spending bill lays the groundwork for “not necessarily bigger government, but smarter government,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said.

The legislation includes provisions dealing with agriculture, natural resources, energy, jobs and other state programs.

The spending provisions likely will be folded into an education bill that passed Monday and legislation funding health and other programs that is expected to pass Thursday. The Senate is to debate its only spending bill Thursday.

Once both chambers finish their bills, House and Senate negotiators will sit down and work out differences. The main difference is that the Democrat-controlled Senate uses some of the surplus to fund programs and wants to add a new gasoline tax, while Republicans who run the House reject new taxes and want to split the surplus between tax cuts and increased transportation spending.

Rural Minnesota was the main discussion topic as representatives debated Wednesday.

Garofalo’s job and energy committee took money from two economic development programs that the suburban legislator said subsidize corporations. More than $20 million would be removed from Minnesota Investment and Minnesota Job Creation funds, spending it instead mostly on greater Minnesota programs.

“The approach in Minnesota has been for more favorable business climate in all of Minnesota … benefiting a wider range of Minnesota,” Garofalo said.

Also eliminated in the GOP bill was the state film board, established to attract movie and television productions to the state.

Garofalo said that “quite simply, there are better ways” to develop the economy than with films and TV.

One better way to spend money, he said, is to help troubled Mille Lacs-area businesses.

“We want to get the word out that there is some world-class fishing” in Mille Lacs Lake, Garofalo said, even if it is not walleye.

Businesses around the lake would benefit, he said, from $2.3 million that could attract tourists for activities other than walleye fishing, which the state restricted because of their low numbers.

Finishing the Lewis and Clark project that delivers water to southwest Minnesota communities also would be good for economic development, Garofalo said. The $11.5 million in the bill would finish the project by delivering water to Worthington.

Throughout the Wednesday debate, Democrats unsuccessfully tried to take money from Lewis and Clark, spending it on projects ranging from economic development programs to expanding high-speed broadband construction grants.

Natural Resources Chairman Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said that his portion of the bill shifted $2.3 million so the Department of Natural Resources can spend more on employee health care, blaming the shortfall on new federal health laws.

“No parks will be closed, even for one day,” McNamara said, which might have been required had the money not been shifted.

Agriculture Chairman Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said his part of the bill moved money that last year was appropriated for fighting bird flu to related uses, such as to an agriculture emergency fund and to laboratories investigating livestock diseases.

Democrats complained about lack of new spending, above that passed last year in a $42 billion, two-year state budget.

“This lesson this week is what might have been,” House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said, adding that some of the state surplus should have been used to bolster state programs.

The bill also includes provisions to:

  • Allow civil citations to be issued to people who do not comply with an aquatic invasive species decontamination order. A penalty also could be issued to an offender who does not complete invasive species training.
  • Require boats with enclosed compartments to have carbon monoxide detectors.
  • Let American Indian tribal members harvest rice anywhere in the state.
  • Spend $250,000 to launch a pilot tractor roll-over protection program.

No new overall spending is proposed in legislation the Minnesota House debated Wednesday, but here are some proposed changes in the Republican-sponsored spending bill dealing with agriculture, outdoors and jobs programs:

— $4.3 million for livestock laboratory equipment

— $9.8 million in cuts to agriculture programs, moving $7.8 million to other programs

— $3.3 million for agriculture emergency account

— $250,000 to help provide tractor roll-over protection

— $5.4 million for expected legal fees over copper-nickel mine permitting process

— $20.5 million removed from Minnesota Investment Fund and Minnesota Job Creation Fund, two economic development programs

— $1.8 million removed to eliminate the state film board

— $15 million to expand broadband into rural areas (another $25 million planned for future years and another bill would spend $7 million for school broadband issues)

— $11.5 million to complete southwest Minnesota’s Lewis and Clark water distribution system

— $2.3 million to allow Mille Lacs Lake-area businesses recover from profits lost to walleye fishing restrictions

— $800,000 to increase tourism-related spending, including the possibility of events around Mille Lacs Lake

— $500,000 in grants to greater Minnesota communities to increase the number of child care providers

— $5 million cut to Housing Finance Authority and increase Workforce Housing Grant Program spending by that amount

— $2.3 million to state parks, mostly going to health insurance costs