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Political Notebook: First budget showdown at Capitol looming?

Nearly one month into the legislative session and things are starting to heat up in St. Paul.

A vote on a $1 billion budget-cutting bill is scheduled soon in the Minnesota Senate. The bulk of the proposed cuts would be made to local government aid, higher education, and health and human services programs. The bill would make permanent the unallotment cuts made by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. It also includes a two-year salary freeze for state employees.

The Minnesota House passed a similar measure on Friday. If the bill passes, it will go to a conference committee so the differences can be hashed out. Republican legislative leaders say they want this bill passed by Feb. 10 so that it can be included in the February economic forecast and bring down the size of the state's $6.2 billion budget deficit.

This could end up being the first legislative showdown between the GOP-controlled Legislature and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton. The new governor has said he does not support the idea of passing budget bills piece by piece.

Lawmakers to get Mayo Clinic's take on health reform


The same day as the annual Rochester on Tour at the Capitol event, Mayo Clinic's Dr. Doug Wood will testify before two key legislative committees on health care reform. Wood is slated to address the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to discuss the "problems, pitfalls and opportunities in health care reform." He will testify again at 2:30 p.m. before the House Health and Human Services Reform committee.

Bill would create U.S. 14 license plates

A bill to create a special "Support Highway 14" license plate is getting bipartisan support from southern Minnesota lawmakers. Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, is sponsoring the measure.

The license plate would require a onetime contribution of at least $30. Money raised from the license plates would go towards construction projects on U.S. 14. Bill co-sponsors include Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester.

Sheran said she backs the measure to raise awareness about the need to upgrade the entire stretch of U.S. 14 from two-lane to four-lane. She said the highway continues to pose a safety hazard along with slowing economic growth in the region.

"On a narrow two lane, it slows down the growth of those regional centers if we don't create an adequate four lane to move products safely, quickly," she said.

Similar bills have been introduced in the past but failed to win legislative approval. Sheran said the problem is that there are already several special license plates, and lawmakers have been hesitant to add more without cutting existing ones. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.


Dayton's deputy chief of staff addresses chamber

Dayton's deputy chief of staff Michelle Kelm-Helgen will be the featured speaker on Feb. 11 at the Rochester Chamber of Commerce's "Eggs and Issues" event. She is expected to outline the governor's priorities for the legislative session. Local legislators are also expected to talk about the legislative session.

The event runs from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. at Rochester's Doubletree Hotel  and includes breakfast. Cost is $20 for chamber members and $30 for nonmembers. To register, call the chamber at 288-1122 or go to its website at www.rochestermnchamber.com .

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