After more than one hour of debate, the state House passed Republican’s $1 billion budget-cutting bill as they attempt to take a bite out of a historic $6.2 billion deficit.
The proposal passed with a 68-63 margin, the minimum number of votes required to pass a bill. All Democrats voted against the bill, along with four freshman Republicans in swing or DFL-leaning districts. The freshman were representatives King Banaian, John Kriesel, Deb Kiel and Rich Murray, who switched his vote from yes to no just before the vote was called.
The bill, brought by GOP Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, makes permanent cuts to higher education, local government aid and health care that were part of a budget deal reached at the end of the 2010 session. It also calls on the Minnesota Management and Budget Office to find $200 million in cuts to state government spending.
Democrats criticized the bill, saying it was rushed through the committee process and cuts money from state programs that support veterans, higher education grants and disaster relief. The Senate amended its version of the budget-cutting bill this week after reports that part of the $200 million in state government dollars would hit those areas. Senate Finance Chair Claire Robling reduced the total to $125 million in state government cuts.
“How many of you sent out mailers or said on the raido that you were going to cut veterans,” DFL Rep. Larry Hosch said. “Even the Senate realized that our veterans and our students and our most vulnerable children were going to get cut and they amended it in committee.”
Republicans defended the bill, saying they were taking the responsible route and tackling part of the deficit now, instead of waiting for the economic forecast to come out. “I’d rather go into the February forecast with a $5 billion problem than a $6 billion problem,” GOP Rep. Greg Davids said.
Holberg agreed: “We’ve got a big problem in front of us,” she said. “To start working on this now makes sense.”
When asked about his no vote, Kriesel said he agreed with a lot of cuts in the bill, but thought there were better ways to balance the budget, citing a racino proposal. He also noted the $200 million figure. “I don’t feel comfortable voting for reductions that I don’t know what they are,” he said. Kriesel is an Iraq War veteran.
Reporter Paul Demko contributed to this report.