MINNESOTA LEGISLATURE: Health, welfare spending cuts ... Airline shift swaps ... Synthetic pot ban... moreThe Minnesota House approved deep cuts to health and welfare programs early Thursday, setting the stage for budget talks between GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
By: Associated Press,
Health, welfare cuts approved
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House approved deep cuts to health and welfare programs early Thursday, setting the stage for budget talks between GOP lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton.
The House’s health budget bill, approved on a largely party-line vote of 70-62 after 2 a.m., was the last in a series of GOP-sponsored bills that together aim to fund state programs and agencies the next two years and eliminate a $5 billion shortfall between projected tax collections and spending obligations.
The health budget bill would cut projected spending on health care and social services by $1.7 billion over the next two years, while bringing sweeping changes to the state’s public health care programs. Only three Republicans voted against the bill; one Democrat voted for it.
The bill crystalizes the gulf still separating the GOP and Dayton, with the Republicans insisting they’ve crafted a framework to erase the deficit without state tax increases as the governor insists on both cuts and a new revenue source.
Republican leaders in the state Senate said Thursday morning they hope to begin direct budget talks with Dayton soon, but offered little hint of where compromise might be found. “We’d like to ask the governor to please come to the table,” said Sen. Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo.
The first-term governor wants to raise taxes for the state’s top earners. His top advisers have raised multiple objections to the GOP slate of spending plans, issuing a stream of letters highlighting areas of disagreement.
The health bill would unravel a Medicaid expansion Dayton ordered this year for 100,000 vulnerable adults, eliminate MinnesotaCare health coverage for 7,200 adults and give other MinnesotaCare enrollees subsidies to buy private insurance. It counts on saving $300 million by getting federal permission to tinker with Medicaid, known in the state as Medical Assistance. Services for disabled people would also be cut significantly from projected spending levels.
Rep. Jim Abeler, the bill’s sponsor, said an overhaul is needed to curb the fastest-growing area of state spending and preserve a safety net for the most vulnerable.
“If you care about the people we’re serving, then you better find a way to keep affording to serve them,” said Abeler, R-Anoka, on the sidelines of the debate late Wednesday.
Democrats argued that the bill banks on savings that might never materialize.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said $750 million of the cuts are unsubstantiated by state fiscal analysts and the rollback of the Medicaid expansion would result in the loss of $1.3 billion in federal money over three years. Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger predicted the bill would undo big pieces of a health care overhaul the state adopted in 2008, including stripping funding for prevention programs and efforts to save money by better coordinating patient care.
“Basically. half of their cuts are not real,” said Rep. Tom Huntley, the ranking Democrat on the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee.
Lawmakers amended the bill Wednesday to block penalties for those who refuse to buy health insurance as required by the federal health care overhaul, after a philosophical exchange over the federal law and states’ rights. The GOP majority defeated a Democratic attempt to require the governor to consider calling a special session if savings from the federal Medicaid waiver weren’t realized, so lawmakers could address the resulting budget gap.
The health budget bill and spending plans for public schools, colleges, courts, prisons, job and farm programs and more are headed to legislative negotiating panels charged with reconciling differences between the chambers’ approaches. Some details of the House bill differ from a Senate version approved last week, but both seek to undo the Medicaid expansion and obtain a federal waiver to give the state more control over health care spending.
Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 72-61 along party lines for a bill that would slash state agency budgets by a third while reducing the state work force 15 percent by 2015.
Lawmakers and Dayton have until May 23 to agree on a budget during the regular legislative session. The current budget cycle terminates at the end of June.
Airline shift swaps OK'd
Workers for Delta Air Lines and other air carriers will have more leeway to trade work shifts when a new Minnesota law takes effect today.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill Thursday that exempts airlines from a state statute requiring overtime pay for workers who put in more than 48 hours a week, in cases when the employees voluntarily agree to swap scheduled hours.
The exemption was sought by Delta, and the bill’s House sponsor, Democratic Rep. Leon Lillie of North St. Paul, works for the airline.
Delta CEO Richard Anderson told employees in a message last month that the change would give them more scheduling flexibility. He said Delta would continue to pay overtime when scheduled by the airline.
Synthetic pot ban moves ahead
A move to prohibit synthetic substances that mimic marijuana and other drugs is gaining traction at the Capitol.
A Senate public safety panel voted Thursday to consider incorporating the proposal into a larger drug bill.
That vote came hours after the full House added a synthetic marijuana ban to a health and welfare spending package early Thursday.
Both bills would punish the sale of the substances — often marketed as incense or bath salts — with fines of up to $3,000. Possession would be a misdemeanor carrying penalties of up to 90 days in jail, fines of up to $1,000 or both.
Olmsted County Attorney Mark Ostrem told the Senate committee that drug users on probation are openly using synthetic substances because they’re still legal.
Stadium alcohol regulation
Minnesota lawmakers are coping with their three-year hangover: whether to allow beer and alcohol sales at the University of Minnesota’s on-campus football stadium.
The latest bill leaves the matter entirely up to the school’s Board of Regents after previous legislative efforts to fashion a compromise left the stadium dry.
The Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee advanced the bill Wednesday, but it has a ways to go.
Sen. Geoff Michel said state lawmakers have “kind of become a liquor control board for the University of Minnesota.”
Current law permits a liquor license at TCF Bank Stadium if beer is made available in at least one-third of the general seating area.
The university wants to restrict sales to suites and premium seating, arguing it would make those tickets more attractive and lucrative and make it easier to prevent consumption by minors.
Opponents of the suite-only policy consider it to be elitist.