Central Minnesota lawmakers today expressed disappointment in a legislative stalemate that prompted Gov. Tim Pawlenty to cancel more than $281 million in state spending, take the last $24 million from state reserves and defer more than $50 million in sales tax reimbursements to businesses this morning.
Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd, said today the governor cut ethanol subsidies from $27 million to $6 million.
Before hearing the specifics of the governor's cuts, Walz said he had experienced a sinking feeling that House and Senate conferees were not going to reach agreement. Negotiations fell apart at about 1 a.m. today.
"I'm a little bit concerned about ethanol for the farmers down by Little Falls," he said.
Although he wasn't sure how the ethanol cuts would affect Morrison County's ethanol plant he said some of the more established plants appeared ready to make it on their own without state subsidies.
Walz said it was apparent to him from listening to a radio broadcast of Pawlenty's news conference today the governor took no joy in invoking the executive privilege known as unallotment.
"We have to have a balanced budget," Walz said.
The Brainerd area lawmaker said the governor explained that kindergarten-12 budget cuts were primarily grants that would not directly affect the classroom. Earlier this week Pawlenty mentioned school district compensatory aid as a possible target, although it was not clear this morning whether that was affected by Pawlenty's announcement.
Brainerd Superintendent Jerry Walseth said the district receives $1.73 million in compensatory aid, which is targeted to school districts with a relatively high number of low-income students. He said the Brainerd district has only received about 35 percent of its compensatory aid this year.
"Compensatory aid goes to support our high-risk students," he said. "Our primary mission is student achievement. This will impact student achievement."
Other lawmakers, contacted before Pawlenty's news conference, expressed dissatisfaction that the unallotment process had to be used.
"I'm extremely disappointed that 201 legislators are paid to do a job and quite frankly we didn't get the job done," Sen. Paul Koering, R-Fort Ripley, said.
He questioned how lawmakers would handle the $4.5 billion deficit for coming years when they couldn't come to an agreement on a $356 million shortfall.
"If we don't start getting the job done we could lose our AAA bond rating," he said.
Sen. Dallas Sams, DFL-Staples, one of the conferees, said the potential of compensatory aid cuts might make it hard for the governor to hold firm to his pledge of not harming education. He said the Staples, Long Prairie and Osakis school districts all receive compensatory aid.
He said the Senate has philosophical differences with the House and the governor is going to have to engage in give and take with the Senate.
"It was a stalemate and it shows that's probably the way it's going to be," Sams said. "The governor and House think they're in control. We're a third part of this tri-system. We have some philosophical differences and they're going to have to give and take."
Those philosophical differences included the Senate's preference for one-time cuts to higher education and then an evaluation to see how it affects tuition while the House and governor wanted to make permanent higher education cuts. The Republicans also wanted permanent cuts in food assistance to pregnant mothers and children and to pre-natal and preventative care.
"It lets the House and governor know where we're at in the Senate," Sams said of the stalemate. "We're not going to get pushed around. The next go-around is going to be much more important. The governor has to be aware that there is some middle ground."
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, thinks more pain will result from the unallotment process than if a compromise were reached.
"If we can't settle this little one (deficit) what are we going to do with the next one?" he asked.
Howes said he believed the House compromised but the Senate wasn't unified enough to compromise.
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