St. Paul, Minn. — The Senate Health, Human Services, and Corrections Budget Division voted 6-2 against Gov. Pawlenty's proposed reduction to state services for the needy. The governor's plan would reduced planned expenditures in an effort to erase a $4.2 billion deficit projected over the next biennium.
DFL Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger noted that even some of the governor's presumed allies didn't have the stomach to accept his proposed reductions.
"Not even all the Republicans supported it and the author, in fact, abstained," Hottinger said. "So I think it indicates that the Pawlenty budget is in trouble. And we're trying to work with the governor. We want to work with the governor. And we hope he recognizes that he also has to work with us. And I'm confident that he's interested in doing that."
Pawlenty's plan would tighten eligibility for state health insurance programs and reduce a variety of payments to hospitals. Democrats estimate it could leave 67,000 Minnesotans without health care. The governor's plan was sponsored by Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, I-Rochester. Although the former Republican still caucuses with her GOP colleagues, she says she refrained from voting because she suspected the vote was called for political reasons.
Pawlenty offered a similar assessment. He says he never expected the DFL-controlled Senate to accept his budget package.
"Oh, it's no surprise. I mean, the Senate doesn't support what we're doing, and so it's kind of a symbolic thing that took place. But we're waiting to see their plan and see if they can come up with something better. But bottom line is it's easy for them to vote 'no' or criticize what we're doing, but they've got an obligation to put together something that they can pass. And we're anxious to see them do it," Pawlenty said.
They haven't come forward with no ideas except that when they go have their little meetings, people line up and every two minutes somebody says you can't do this to us, you can't do that. And they kind of nod their heads and then come back to St. Paul. That's kind of a chicken way to do it.
Pawlenty and other Republican leaders have criticized Democrats for weeks now over their failure to produce an alternative budget. DFLers say they're moving slowly on purpose, collecting citizen input through a series of citizen workshops before they craft their own proposals.
But Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, ridiculed that argument. "You know, the DFL, come on forward. What do you want done? Where's your budget? What's your ideas? Do you have any ideas? They haven't come forward with no ideas except that when they go have their little meetings, people line up and every two minutes somebody says 'you can't do this to us, you can't do that.' And they kind of nod their heads and then come back to St. Paul. That's kind of a chicken way to do it," Day said.
Hours after the governor's health and human service budget was defeated, the Senate Higher Education Budget Division voted on a 5-4 party line vote to reject Pawlenty's higher education plan. That proposal would chop $200 million each from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.
DFLer Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, who chairs the Higher Education Budget Committee, says, at this point, Democrats will need to consider increasing state revenues through new taxes or increases in existing ones.
"I think that it makes sense in good economic times, when you have extra dollars, drop your tax rates. And when you're having some problems, for the people who can afford it, you can do a temporary surcharge on income tax," Pappas said.
New state taxes, however, would run afoul of the governor's pledge not to raise taxes. Pawlenty's budget relies on reduced spending, drawing down state reserves, and shifting some state payments into later budget cycles.
Although Senate Democrats appear poised to reject that approach, House Republicans say they'll stand by the governor's plan and offer only minimal adjustments.