There’s magic in numbers.
This morning, the Republican leaders of the Minnesota Senate announced their targets for spending in the 2012-13 biennium. The big number they’re shooting for: $34 billion in spending.
That’s the number they say is in “the state checkbook.”
Remember, when the legislative session began, there was only $32 billion in that checkbook. But a better-than-expected economic forecast released late last month raised that checkbook amount to $33 billion.
When House Republicans announce their targets this afternoon, they are expected to be working with the same checkbook balance.
So where’d the newest billion come from?
“Carry-forward money,” said Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch.
That’s a vague answer, but it appears to mean money in reserves and money that hasn’t been spent in the current biennium.
Overall, it still means that the Republicans’ all-cuts budget is $3 billion less than the budget Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed. The Dayton proposal comes with tax increases on the state’s wealthiest wage earners.
Human Services would take biggest hit
As expected, the big loser in the Republican proposal is the Department of Human Services. Republicans want to cut $1.6 billion from what the budget currently calls for, although Republicans insist DHS still gets an increase compared to current spending.
The Republican Senate proposal and the Dayton proposal are about $1.5 billion apart.
As anticipated, another big loser under the Republican plan is higher education. The University of Minnesota and MNSCU take a $100 million hit under the proposal, a cut of 16 percent from the current budget proposal. The gov and the Legislature are about $240 million apart on higher ed.
And, as expected, Local Government Aid appears to be a $700 million loser in the Republican plan, though LGA is buried in a category called “tax aids and credits spending” and Senate leadership was not prepared to say just what the fate of LGA will be if Republican wishes prevail. Again, the difference between the governor and Republicans is a robust $800 million in the overall category.
Like the governor, Republicans have kicked the $1.4 billion shift of public education financing down the road, meaning there’s no payback plan in place for money that was “borrowed” from the K-12 fund last year as a way to balance the current budget.
Republicans and the governor are roughly $100 million apart in what they want to put into K-12 education in the next biennium.
Again, it must be pointed out, all of these numbers represent targets being passed on to Republican-led committees. It’s up to those committees to work out the fine-print details. But things tend to be vague.
For example, how do you cut $1.6 billion from Human Services without closing nursing homes and hospitals, especially in rural Minnesota?
Sen. David Haan, who heads the Human Services Committee, says he believes that much of the trimming can be done through “reforms.”
“We’ll do everything we can do to protect the vulnerable,” Haan said.
In percentage terms, the biggest losers under the Senate proposal were in the categories of “State Government Innovation and Veterans Affairs,’’ which took a 53 percent budget hit, and “Jobs and Economic Growth, a 47 percent loser.
But legislative leaders seemed to think that federal funds could help fill gaps in the veterans affairs area and that other legislative measures — cuts in business taxes and streamlining regulations — supports the jobs-growth mission.
Republican leadership didn’t finish their target work until last night.
Focus is on ‘core constitutional requirements’
“These targets protect the core constitutional requirements of state government,” said Sen. Claire Robling, who heads the Senate’s Finance Committee. “However, we absolutely have to scale back in the projected growth and spending.”
Koch and Geoff Michel, who heads the Jobs Committee, said the targets reflect the fundamental Republican message.
“No tax increases,” said Michel. “We’re confirming that we’ll live within our means.”
Michel also predicted that unlike last year — when the Senate, led by DFLer Larry Pogemiller, and the House, led by DFLer Margaret Anderson Kelliher, often seemed at odds — House and Senate leadership under the Republicans are united.
“In the past, you had the House and Senate running in different directions,” Michel said. “We’re married to the House.’’
Among other things, he said, that means that work of conference committees will either be eliminated entirely, or at least fairly harmonious.
Republicans plan to release their detailed budget proposal on March 25.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.