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COL Bickering won't get the state's work completed

There are about four weeks left of the regular legislative session and, like clockwork, the partisan bickering has begun.

The same partisan bickering that prevented us from completing our work last year popped up in our newspapers again this week -- this time in the form of letters from House Republicans criticizing the Senate DFL's budget plan, announced two weeks ago.

I am very disappointed that Republicans are trying to muddy the waters just as we are beginning to confront the real budget work of the session.

Considering that neither the House nor the Senate has finished passing its budget bills, I believe it is premature -- and a disservice to every Minnesotan -- to begin this partisan mudslinging.

Right now, lawmakers are discussing how to fund your schools, roads and public safety initiatives. I think it is important for you to know exactly what is happening at the Capitol, not just rely on one-sided partisan attacks.

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To be clear, the Senate has spent the past week passing nearly every budget bill out of committee, and we are scheduled to have each of these approved by the full Senate by the middle of next week.

Republicans have blamed us for laying out an "incomplete" budget plan, when, in fact, we are one step ahead of the House and the governor. If the session ended today, the Senate alone has passed legislation that balances the governor's $466 million deficit and would allow government to continue functioning into the next fiscal year.

House Republicans, on the other hand, have been fumbling over not one but two different budget proposals and have not approved any plan to fill the $466 million deficit.

Their budget plan relies very heavily on cuts to state programs and services, and on one-time accounting shifts to keep the amount of new spending low.

Under their plan, 30,000 working Minnesotans -- not welfare recipients, but people working 40-hour workweeks -- would lose health insurance benefits if that budget were approved.

Perhaps more alarming to those of us in Greater Minnesota is the Republicans' reliance on property-tax increases. For instance, the House Republicans claim to increase education funding, but in order for schools to realize much of that revenue, school boards must raise property taxes.

Apparently, they are not hearing from the same constituents as I am, who tell me they have seen their property taxes increase as much as 45 percent in recent years.

In their negative letters, House Republicans failed to mention these glaring snags in their own spending plans. They also failed to disclose the clear and concise plan that is currently being debated in the Senate.

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Senate DFLers are advocating for full and responsible funding for our education system at all levels -- early childhood development, K-12 education and higher education.

The governor's own education task force indicates that education is under-funded by as much as $750 million. But while the governor relies on property-taxes to fill only a portion of this funding gap, the Senate is discussing a plan to responsibly pay for that investment without the use of shifts and property-tax increases.

The fact is there is a lot of work left to be done before this legislative session ends May 23. During the next few weeks, we will participate in a debate about the heart and soul of Minnesota's future. I am at the Capitol to participate in this debate and to do what is best for those of us in District 27.

I encourage House Republicans and Governor Pawlenty to adopt that same focus and start being honest with the citizens of Minnesota.

I encourage you to contact me with your comments or questions: (651) 296-9248; sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; G24 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN 55155; (507) 438-2898.

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