ST. PAUL (AP) -- Senior citizens, college students, farmers and local governments would fare slightly better under a House Republican budget proposal than under Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan.
Bearing the financial brunt of the changes, however, would be state employees, who would have fewer state vehicles, a lower cell phone reimbursement rate and a two-year freeze on wages and health insurance.
The plan also counts on the Legislature and governor passing a bill that would allow slot machines to be installed at Canterbury Park.
While House Speaker Steve Sviggum acknowledged there were "some detractors" to the proposal, he said the House had made strategic changes to make the budget more palatable to more people.
"It's all a balancing act," said Sviggum, R-Kenyon. "This is the best plan for all Minnesotans."
The plan would require the state to spend $20.1 million more than Pawlenty had recommended -- a pittance when lawmakers are dealing with a $28 billion budget.
He emphasized that the House GOP plan meshed with Pawlenty's plan on "99.9 percent" of cuts and spending, including no state tax increases.
The plan would return $91 million in funding for local government aid, $11 million for ethanol projects, $50 million for higher education and $70 million for nursing homes, the disabled and senior programs. One of them, the Senior Corps, pays a small hourly stipend to seniors who serve as foster grandparents and deliver meal to homes.
Those are some of the groups that have pressured lawmakers to soften the governor's budget plan since it was released earlier this year.
Local officials have said cuts as deep as what Pawlenty recommended in local government aid, for instance, would mean cuts in basic services such as police and fire departments. Detroit Lakes Mayor Larry Buboltz said the House plan wasn't much better because it still would cut the aid by $344 million for 2004-05.
Local government aid also hits non-metro Minnesota cities harder than Twin Cities suburbs. Buboltz said it would be fairer to restore more local government aid and reduce aid for transit and other programs that primarily help the Twin Cities area.
"Everyone should participate in the cuts," he said.
He also said banking on $100 million from a casino bill that hasn't passed either the House or the Senate was a bad idea.
House Democrats agreed.
"When you try to build a budget on casino money, you're gambling on all these programs," said House Minority Leader Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul.
He said the House GOP plan offered only a "blurry road map" of where Republicans wanted to go.
Although he has long opposed expansion of gambling, Sviggum said his views have begun to change. He said gambling was expanding in the state anyway and that allowing slots at Canterbury was a better option than cutting money for nursing homes.
The casino provision is on pace to pass the House, but prospects are less certain in the Senate.
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