ST. PAUL -- The Senate continues to play the hare to the House's tortoise at the Capitol this week.
The Senate plans to vote Monday on a plump bonding bill stuffed with building projects for colleges, improvements to parks and bridge repairs. If that happens, longtime Capitol regulars say it would be the earliest a chamber has passed a bonding bill in memory.
The Senate plan would have the state spend the maximum allowed under state guidelines. In all, the bill would finance $1.2 billion worth of projects, compared to $845 million in a plan by Gov. Jesse Ventura. The House hasn't yet produced a plan, but leaders have said they expect it to be much less than what the Senate proposed.
According to the civics-book description of policymaking, this session of the Legislature is supposed to be only about deciding which projects are worthy of having the state borrow to complete.
In practice, plenty of policy bills are considered during capital budget years, and this year lawmakers are also preoccupied with patching the state's projected $1.95 billion budget shortfall.
The House has so far lagged behind the Senate, spending session time on sticky political issues such as whether to approve a contract for state workers that includes benefits for the partners of gay and lesbian employees.
Unlike the Senate, which passed its entire budget-balancing bill in one shot, the House has split its plan into 11 separate bills being considered by their respective committees.
At least three of those bills, covering transportation, higher education and early childhood education, are expected to get votes on the House floor on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Those bills contain some of the touchiest cuts yet proposed in the budget bills.
For example, the House's plan calls for $175 million worth of cuts in the Health and Human Services budget -- made up mostly of programs for poor people and the elderly. That compares to about $75 million in cuts in the Senate plan.
To reach its goal, the House committee has proposed $322 million worth of potential cuts, and it will winnow the list after hearing public testimony. More than 75 people are scheduled to speak to the committee on Monday and Wednesday.
Whatever is left of lawmakers' attention will be focused on their own pet policy bills, which face a key deadline. Any bills that haven't passed out of their initial policy committees by Friday are considered dead for the session. March 1 is the deadline for all surviving bills to clear finance committees.
And any remaining House budget-balancing bills must be ready for the House floor by March 8.
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