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House, Senate Republican budget helps local government, seniors
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House Speaker Steve Sviggum, left, and House Majority Leader Erik Paulsen, right, unveil the GOP budget plan. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Republicans in both the House and Senate on Thursday released budget plans that closely mirror Gov. Pawlenty's proposed budget. The plans reduce some of the proposed cuts in the governor's budget. To do that, they rely on money from a proposed casino at Canterbury Park in Shakopee, a proposal Gov. Pawlenty hasn't embraced.

St. Paul, Minn. — House and Senate Republicans have nearly identical plans. And like the governor's budget, their plans don't raise state taxes. They part with Pawlenty's proposal by restoring some of the governor's proposed cuts to nursing homes, ethanol funding, higher education, and local governments.

House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says the House Republican plan addresses some of the concerns lawmakers have heard.

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Image Day critical of DFL

"Farmers, the elderly, students, local governments; we've listened and responded appropriately," he said.

To restore some of the proposed cuts in Pawlenty's budget, the House and Senate plans depend on adding slot machines and video gambling at Canterbury Park.

The so-called "racino" would be privately-owned, and supporters say it would funnel an estimated $100 million to the state over the next two years. Speaker Sviggum has long opposed any expansion of gambling. He says he supports the racino because it uses an existing facility.

"I would have had to have been in Pluto -- my head would have to be in the sand -- to (not) see that gaming has not expanded in Minnesota. It's expanded, and it's expanded at a tremendous rate in the past 10 years. Gaming expands and will continue to expand," he said.

But Sviggum hasn't persuaded the man he calls his best friend, Gov. Pawlenty. The governor's communications director, Dan Wolter, says Pawlenty opposes gambling, and is concerned about using the racino as a new revenue stream.

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Image Hottinger promises a budget plan from DFL

Opposition to the racino cuts across party lines; many Republicans view gambling as morally objectionable, and many Democrats are concerned an expansion of gambling will cut into Indian gaming operations.

The racino squeaked through the House Taxes Committee by one vote. DFL House Minority Leader Matt Entenza says basing the Republican plans on the racino is risky.

"What kind of state are we, when the only way that we can solve critical problems in funding police and firefighters and job creation comes down to whether or not we can get a little additional revenue off of gambling?" Entenza said.

Entenza says the Republican plans still don't go far enough to adequately fund education and public safety. House and Senate Democrats will meet over the next few days to come up with their budget proposals.

Republican leaders used their budget announcements to once again blast DFLers for not releasing a plan yet. Senate Minority Leader Dick Day of Owatonna says Democrats have been holding town meetings, but they don't say what they'll do about the budget deficit.

"I'm so sick of these people going out, and they're constantly telling people, 'Oh, we hear your pain, we hear your pain, and we're with you, we're with you, we're with you!' $4.2 billion dollars. And then they leave the room," Day said.

DFL leaders point out that Republican legislators didn't have a concrete plan until now. They say they're only behind Republicans by a couple of days.

Senate Majority Leader John Hottinger of St. Peter says Senate Democrats wanted public input on the budget. "Our obligation is to talk to the people of Minnesota and get their reaction to the governor's budget. We have done that. We will be coming up with our targets within a couple of days. The House has delayed until today coming up with their targets. It's kind of a false criticism."

Hottinger says the Republican's plans show that lawmakers in the governor's party object to some of the cuts Pawlenty proposed. He says Democrats haven't decided whether they will propose a tax increase to mitigate some of the pain in the governor's budget.

Where the House Republican plan differs from Gov. Tim Pawlenty's

-Education: House Republicans would spend $100,000 more
-Higher education: House Republicans would spend $50 million more
-Tax aids and credits: House Republicans would spend $91 million more on local government aid and count on $100 million in revenues from a casino at Canterbury Park and $12 million from other sources
-Health and human services: House Republicans would spend $70 million more on nursing homes, services for the disabled and senior programs
-Environment: same
-Agriculture: House Republicans would spend $11 million more on subsidies for ethanol producers
-Jobs and economic development: House Republicans would spend $7 million less, but say all of that would be offset by extra funds recently found by the legislative auditor
-Judiciary: House Republicans would spend $5 million less, but say that would be offset by a $9.7 million pool of money for other bills, including $5 million for homeland security
-Transportation: House Republicans would spend $11.9 million less
-State government: House Republicans would spend $72 million less, getting the savings through freezes on wages and health insurance for state employees as well as reducing the number of state vehicles and money available for state employee cell phone use

Senate Republicans released a plan that would mirror the House GOP plan, except Senate Republicans would spend $25 million less on higher education and take in $5 million from a surcharge on criminal and traffic fines.

The caucus would spend $20 million toward health care insurance premiums for low-income Minnesotans and $10 million for law enforcement, the courts and homeland security.

Source: Associated Press

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