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Don Davis and Janell Cole, Published April 06 2009

Stimulus money shapes Minnesota Senate budget

Minnesota legislators hit the three-month mark in their 2009 session today, and the Senate Democrats’ budget plan just now is taking shape.

Weeks ago, Senate leaders said they would cut 7 percent across the board from state spending. Now, it is obvious that will not be the case, thanks to federal economic stimulus money.

Higher education spending, for instance, would drop just 2.3 percent under the Senate plan. Public school education funding would fall 3.2 percent, and health and human services programs would experience a 5.9 percent drop.

Under the Senate plan, the state would spend $33 billion in the next two years, a bit more than Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposes.

One of the most controversial parts of the Senate plan is the public education cut.

“Under their amended plan, the Senate DFL is still cutting K-12 education and raising taxes,” Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. “It’s a bad combination.”

The budget began to take shape in recent days as Senate Democrats fill in much of what would have been a $6.4 billion budget with federal economic stimulus funds. Senators will debate raising taxes

$2 billion to further plug the budget.

Sand: One more time?

CQ Politics recently discovered North Dakota Republican Duane Sand may be looking for a fourth try in 10 years for a spot in Congress.

The publication (http://blogs.cqpolitics.com/eyeon2010/), part of Congressional Quarterly, reported Friday that Sand filed papers registering a committee for a possible 2010 U.S. Senate bid, when Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is up for re-election.

In an e-mail exchange with CQ, Sand downplayed it, noting that the Federal Election Commission requires a filing from even undeclared candidates if they spend as little as $5,000 exploring a bid.

It costs more than $5,000 just to do a poll, Sand told CQ.

Sand’s previous races were for the U.S. Senate against Kent Conrad in 2000 and against Rep. Earl Pomeroy in 2004 and 2008. The closest he’s come was the 19-point margin by which he lost to Pomeroy in 2004.

Vote on horizon

Republicans who support nuclear power are aglow after a Thursday Senate vote to lift a Minnesota nuclear power plant construction moratorium.

“The new majority,” Senate Minority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, proclaimed after the 42-24 vote.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, was not quite so optimistic. But he said he now is convinced that the full House eventually will take up a similar amendment.

Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, surprised many senators – including himself – by winning the Thursday Senate amendment vote.

Even though Republicans and some Democrats are happy with the vote to lift the moratorium, Seifert brought a dose of reality to the conversation. Anti-nuclear senators likely will dominate negotiations with the House, perhaps dooming its chances, Seifert said.

End of McLean’s run

Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson’s last day in office was Friday, and well-wishers gathered for a going-away reception Thursday afternoon at the Capitol. Attendees included former North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel, Johnson’s predecessor and a fellow Democrat.

She noted it’s the end of a 20-year run of people from McLean County holding the job. Johnson grew up in Turtle Lake, N.D., and Vogel spent much of her years growing up in Garrison, N.D.

Johnson, commissioner since 1996, is off to be the new president of the National Farmers Union, a job he won in an election a month ago.

Gov. John Hoeven will appoint a new ag commissioner this morning. The appointee will be the first Republican in the job since 1988.

Readers can reach Forum Capitol Correspondents Janell Cole at (701) 224-0830 and Don Davis at (651) 290-0707