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Minnesota House beats back attempt to boost state spending on education
In the the first major debate of the session on whether to raise taxes, the Minnesota House of Representatives voted to cap state spending at $29.8 billion over the next two years, while rejecting an attempt to raise the limit to provide more money for schools.

St. Paul, Minn. — The budget resolution is a binding cap on state spending in the House budget. The resolution's $29.8 billion limit is slightly higher than the amount in Gov. Pawlenty's budget proposal. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum of Kenyon says the resolution's passage means that the Legislature will not raise state taxes this year.

"There's not going to be a general tax increase during this legislative session on Minnesota families. It's just not going to happen," he said.

The closely-divided House voted 67-to-66 for the resolution. One Republican, Dan Dorman of Albert Lea, broke ranks with his caucus to vote against the resolution. Dorman and DFLer Mindy Greiling of Roseville tried unsuccessfully to raise the spending cap by about $350 million. Dorman says that would provide more money for education. Otherwise, he says an education funding boost will come at the expense of other areas in state government.

"And there's not a lot of places you can go to cut. We all know this. It's going to be health and human services. Well, who wants to make additional cuts there? I sure don't," he said.

Dorman and one other Republican, Ron Erhardt of Edina, voted for the higher spending limit. Six Democrats joined with Republicans to defeat Dorman's amendment. The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republican Jim Knoblach of St. Cloud, argued against the higher limit. He says lawmakers won't want to be on record for a tax increase when the next election comes around.

"I can see the postcards now. 'Representative blank voted to allow an increase in state taxes.' This is your chance, members. Sign up for that postcard today," he said.

Knoblach says the budget resolution is an increase of about $2 billion over the current biennium. He says that should be enough to fund education and other spending needs. While the resolution would prevent a state tax increase, it would not prohibit fee increases, new gambling revenues or a hike in the gas tax, which is constitutionally dedicated to roads. And it would have no affect on local property taxes, which are certain to rise under the House budget, according to DFL House Minority Leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul.

"There is no question that a vote for this budget resolution is a vote to raise property taxes and a vote to raise so-called fees that are really additional increases in taxes," Entenza said.

Several Republicans said it's clear that Gov. Pawlenty will veto a tax increase, so there's no point in passing one. Republican leaders say they will work within the spending framework to provide an increase in education funding and trim rising health and human services costs.

With the passage of the budget resolution, any attempts to raise taxes will be ruled out of order in the House. The Senate hasn't passed a budget resolution, and DFL leaders say they haven't decided whether their budget will include a tax increase.