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Taking sides on budget plan

Legislators follow party lines

By Lenora Chu

lchu@postbulletin.com

Sticking strictly to party lines, legislators from southeastern Minnesota are taking sides on a budget plan released by House and Senate leaders Tuesday.

The budget-balancing plan unveiled Tuesday is expected to garner enough votes in the Senate -- at least a two-thirds majority -- to override a gubernatorial veto. But the House caucuses present a different story.

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House Republicans support the plan, which was negotiated by House Speaker Steve Sviggum, a Republican from Kenyon, and Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, a Democrat from Erskine.

But House Democrats have derided the plan for two reasons -- it cuts education spending, though by less than Gov. Jesse Ventura has proposed, and does not fully address a structural deficit projected for the 2004-05 biennium.

"I don't think it's a good plan at all," said Rep. Rob Leighton, an Austin Democrat. "It cuts both K-12 and higher education and I'm very disappointed House and Senate leaders have agreed to this."

The bill would make cuts of $15 million to K-12 funding and $50 million to higher education spending.

The proposal doesn't include $1.1 billion in inflationary increases to erase a large part of a $2.5 billion deficit expected in the 2004-2005 biennium, a tactic that the governor and some Democrats have dubbed an "accounting gimmick."

"By ignoring inflation, we could be setting up a scenario that gives us budget shortfalls forever," said Rep. Gene Pelowski, a Democrat from Winona. "It's going to cause us significant problems."

Republican legislators from southeastern Minnesota support the plan, calling it a triumph for the bicameral process.

"I think it's a significant achievement for the House and Senate (which have) such different orientations," said Rep. Dave Bishop, a Rochester Republican. "To have them negotiate as they did and reach a successful conclusion is really truly outstanding."

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Bishop said that although House Democrats may oppose the plan now, they may shift sides when faced with the choice of voting down the plan and opposing their fellow party member Moe -- who may be making a run for governor -- or voting yes.

"Politically I think they're in a trap," he said. "Do I think they're all going to embarrass their companion in the Senate, who is one of the two parties making the agreement? No."

According to Rep. Bill Kuisle, a Republican from rural Rochester, the House DFL caucus should not dare to oppose a budget plan without presenting a proposal of their own.

"If they vote no and don't have something to throw on the table it makes them look like they have no ideas, they have no leadership," he said.

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