- Associated Press - Thursday, April 14, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - House Republicans are reviving cost-reduction measures in a second budget go-around, detailing their plans Thursday to cut state agency commissioner salaries, freeze public employee hiring and suspend Minnesota’s public campaign subsidy program.

The legislative deja vu comes as state lawmakers work out how to spend a $900 million surplus. The cost-cutting proposals were part of the GOP’s budget framework last year but were tossed out during negotiations with Democrats.

The latest move by House Republicans adds disputable elements to opposing surplus-spending plans of Republicans and Democrats in charge of the Legislature.

The issue of commissioner salaries consumed the Capitol for weeks last year as lawmakers temporarily blocked Gov. Mark Dayton’s unilateral move to raise his cabinet members’ pay by as much as 58 percent. Dayton later enacted slightly smaller bumps, pushing most above $150,000 annually.

House Republicans’ bill would cut the higher pay rates by 5 percent while also taking a bite out of deputy salaries and reducing some upper-agency management positions. Their plan also would implement a yearlong hiring freeze across state government ranks and a one-year suspension of Minnesota’s income-tax checkoff program that gives candidates public subsidies for agreeing to spending limits - a system Republicans tried to eliminate entirely last year.



Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Plymouth Republican in charge of setting state agency budgets, defended the cuts as necessary given the economic trouble that looms. Although the state is sitting on a $900 million surplus, a slowing national economy brought that sum down from previous estimates of $1.2 billion. Recent drops in tax collections have state officials stressing caution.

“This is a good way for us to try to get ahead of it,” Anderson said.

For Republicans, revisiting last year’s budget allows them to repurpose money for some spending increases on schools and Internet development, while devoting the surplus cash to tax relief and a transportation package.

Dayton and fellow Democrats in the Senate are laying out expansive spending plans for the surplus that would set up a statewide preschool program, plow millions of dollars into programs meant to tackle racial economic disparities and fund more than a billion dollars in public construction projects statewide.

All told, the GOP is aiming to ax nearly $10 million from the state agencies funding package passed last year.

“This is a $1 billion budget; $10 million of reductions is not all that much,” said Republican Rep. Jim Knoblach, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

But Democrats disagree and say they’ll resist those clawbacks again this time. House Minority Leader Paul Thissen objected to the suspension of public campaign subsidies - noting that with it, all candidates would be free to spend unlimited amounts of money in their election bids.

“A bill like this makes it harder for us to get our business done,” Thissen said.

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