House and Senate budget negotiators will start looking at ways to reconcile their budget proposals this week in hopes of sending a plan to Gov. Tim Pawlenty in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.
The House and Senate plan to appoint conferees this week to hammer out the differences between the proposals they passed after lengthy debate late Thursday night and early Friday morning.
Before the May 19 constitutional adjournment date, lawmakers plan to send a bill to Gov. Tim Pawlenty that fixes a $935 million budget shortfall.
But the DFL-controlled Legislature and Pawlenty are far apart on their budget proposals.
“We met the governor in several areas that match his budget. … In some areas we disagree with his priority,” said House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis.
Pawlenty and lawmakers began working on a solution to the deficit after the state Finance Department reported the budget gap in February. The deficit covers the current two-year budget period, which ends in July 2009.
During his weekly radio address on Friday, Pawlenty, a Republican, panned the House and Senate’s budget bills for being too large in their “size and scope.”
“Those bills are not acceptable in their current form,” Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty and both chambers of the Legislature take different sums from the state’s reserve accounts to partially solve the deficit.
The House takes $600 million from the cash-flow account and budget reserve. The Senate takes $450 million from those two accounts. Pawlenty takes $500 million from the budget reserve and the surplus in the health care access fund.
The House and Senate gave slight increases to the state’s K-12 education funding formula. The House also provided a cost-of-living adjustment for nursing home workers.
During debate, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle disagreed about the presence of policy items in the budget bill.
“I am very disappointed in how a budget bill became a budget-and-policy bill,” said Rep. Sandy Wollschlager, DFL-Cannon Falls.
Rep. Brad Finstad, R-Comfrey, was even more pointed in his criticism of the bill’s policy provisions. “This is the pure definition of what I would call a garbage bill,” Finstad said.
However, an amendment by Rep. Mark Olson, R-Big Lake, to strip the policy items out of the bill failed 54-77.
The Senate removed policy items unrelated to the budget from its bill, including a controversial provision that would allow dental hygienists with a master’s-degree-level education to drill teeth without the direct supervision of a dentist.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said that bill and other policy items that were removed from the budget bill can be taken up later in the session.
A provision with policy implications was added to the bill around midnight. The provision generated a considerable amount of heat on the House floor.
The House adopted an amendment that allows so-called smoke shacks, where smokers can light up outside bars and restaurants. The amendment from by Rep. Bud Heidgerken, R-Freeport, comes after lawmakers in 2007 passed the Freedom to Breath Act that bans smoking inside restaurants and bars.
The bill divided House members, including Kelliher, who voted against the amendment, and Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, who voted to adopt the amendment.
“I think it’s going to be a tough item in conference committee, actually,” Kelliher said on Friday.
Sertich said the amendment addresses the needs of businesses that have seen their sales decline since the statewide smoking ban took effect.
“It reflects a recognition that there is a loss of business to family business,” Sertich said.