- Associated Press - Monday, March 20, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota House Republicans revealed a broad budget framework Monday that would prompt some cuts to health care programs and state agencies while pressing Gov. Mark Dayton for more than $1.3 billion in tax relief.

It’s just the first chapter in the Legislature’s weeks-long slog to pass a new two-year budget before adjourning in late May with a $1.65 billion budget surplus in hand. Legislative leaders offered few details about how they’d structure nearly $45 billion in spending, but Republicans are envisioning a much leaner state budget than the $46 billion proposal Dayton has already laid out - and far more in tax cuts than the $300 million package of child care support and support for low-income residents that the Democratic governor wants.

“We’re trying to bend down the growth of government,” said Rep. Jim Knoblach, chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

The Legislature’s attention is just shifting to the budget after focusing on other legislation, such as addressing skyrocketing premiums for shoppers who buy health insurance on their own and legalizing Sunday liquor sales after years of failed efforts. The House’s rough budget plan puts the final piece on the table after the Republican-controlled Senate released its initial budget proposal last week.

Fresh off winning full control of the Legislature in November, Republicans will look to constrain Dayton’s appetite for expanding government programs. Dayton last week retooled his own budget proposal in light of a surplus that had grown from $1.4 billion to $1.65 billion, requesting a total of $175 million to fund a new preschool program in more districts.

And both chambers have put a premium on cutting taxes after several years without a tax bill. Senate Republicans last week announced their plans for $900 million in tax relief, including an unspecified rate cut to the state’s lowest tier of the income tax, a reduction that would benefit nearly all Minnesota taxpayers.

House Republicans upped the ante with $1.35 billion in planned tax reductions, but that likely wouldn’t include a broad rate reduction. Instead, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said they’d focus on more targeted tax measures, like phasing out the state’s tax on Social Security income and reducing agricultural property taxes.

“We’re going to target our tax bill at middle class Minnesotans, at seniors, at college students, at farmers,” Daudt said.

Republicans’ thirst for tax cuts will test Gov. Mark Dayton, who has warned legislators against big tax breaks that could reverse four solid years of budget surpluses. But there were also signs that House Republicans were waving some white flags Dayton’s way ahead of a possible repeat of 2011, when the governor and a Republican-controlled Legislature deadlocked over filling a $6 billion budget shortfall that caused a 20-day government shutdown.

With massive federal changes on health care and trade issues brewing, the House plans to match Dayton’s proposal of leaving $200 million unspent as a cushion. Knoblach said Republicans wouldn’t target the higher taxes Dayton and fellow Democrats levied on Minnesota’s highest earners in 2013, saying it was a “signature achievement” of Dayton’s that he was confident the governor would veto.

And legislative leaders also said they wouldn’t revive a push from 2015 to eliminate MinnesotaCare, the state’s health care program for the working poor that faces an uncertain future with federal funding.

“I don’t know if it’s the time to be making really big changes,” Knoblach said.

But Dayton bristled at nearly $600 million in unspecified cuts to health and human services programs. Knoblach suggested weeding out ineligible enrollees on some of the state’s public programs could play a part.

“When the committees start making these numbers real, we will then have something to discuss,” Dayton said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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