Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 23 2011
Health bill is ‘fantasy’ or ‘not ready’ST. PAUL – The House bill funding health programs either is a fantasy or not quite ready, depending on who speaks.
Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday that it is “fantasy island” for Republicans who wrote the bill to think that the federal government will approve a change to save the state $300 million. Obama administration officials have indicated they will not do that, the governor said.
The bill, written by Rep. Jim Abeler of Anoka, would increase state spending on health care and welfare programs for the poor, disabled and elderly but not as much as had been predicted.
Abeler said Tuesday that his bill “is not ready to become law,” an unusual comment from a committee chairman.
In his House Health and Human Services Finance Committee discussion about the bill, he urged colleagues to “find me a better way.” Abeler said there are lots of decisions yet to be made and he is looking toward the constitutional adjournment date of May 23 instead of Republicans’ self-imposed Friday deadline to complete budget bills.
Democrats have complained that Republicans in control of the Legislature are rushing through finance issues just to meet the deadline. Committee chairmen, however, say they are scheduling hours of meetings to hear from the public.
“This is a big week at the Legislature,” said Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina. “We’re not going to rush because it’s important to get things right.”
A Republican spokesman could not immediately say if Michel meant that committees could ignore Friday’s deadline.
Dayton said he thinks the GOP is rushing too much on budget bills, and told legislative leaders that over Tuesday morning breakfast.
The GOP wants to spend $34 billion in the next two years, compared to $37 billion in Dayton’s plan. The current budget is expected to spend $30 billion.
House Republicans propose increasing public school funding $31 per pupil next year and $55 the following year but would slash the state Education Department budget.
Dayton and his education commissioner were not happy. The bill cuts integration aid, designed to help minorities, and other funding that mostly go to Minneapolis and St. Paul. The GOP also trims special education spending, Dayton complained.
His education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius, said that the measure is “unfairly targeting inner city schools.”
The state Education Department would face a 34 percent cut, which the commissioner said would “decimate our agency.”
Republicans said that classroom funding will be changed, but not cut like it could have been with a $5 billion state budget deficit.
Overall, the bill by Education Finance Chairman Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, would spend $14.2 billion in the next two years, $1.5 billion less than in the two years ending June 30.
Davis works for Forum Communications Co. He can be reached at (651) 290-0707.