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Minnesota Senate OKs $209 million budget addition

ST. PAUL — Minnesota senators want to tack $209 million onto a $39 billion, two-year budget that state leaders enacted a year ago.

They also want to see how North Dakota’s oil boom is affecting Minnesota.

The Senate voted 37-27 Tuesday night to increase spending for many programs, including nearly $95 million for health programs —among them raising payments for home health care providers. The measure also ups public school spending $41 million and higher education funding $26 million.

The House earlier approved spending $322 million more in a similar bill. Negotiators will have to reconcile the two bills after the Legislature returns April 22 after an Easter-Passover recess that begins Friday.

Gov. Mark Dayton told reporters both houses spend too much in their budget-tweaking bills and he will look into it further during the legislative break.

Senate Finance Chairman Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, said the additional spending is modest and needed.

“It has many things that are desirous of the state and we all feel are desirous to the state,” Cohen said.

Adding funds for home care is “a signature provision” of the bill, said Sen. Tony Lourey, D-Kerrick.

Senators of both parties agreed.

“Republicans are not afraid to spend some money,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, but she and others in the GOP backed a failed attempt to strip the budget bill of most funding other than the health dollars.

The biggest single appropriation is $80 million in the home care area, Cohen said.

The House and Senate bills both include increased home health care spending.

Among the provisions is money to fund a study about North Dakota oil impacts. Sen. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, brought up the concept, especially wanting to know how the boom affects northwestern Minnesota.

The study must address several issues, including economic, fiscal and demographic effects. Eken asks for both positive and negative impacts.

Data obtained in the study “must be utilized to formulate policy recommendations on how the state, the northwestern region of the state and border cities may respond to the challenges and opportunities for economic growth and financial investment that may be derived from the regional economic changes resulting from the oil production,” the provision says.

The $150,000 study must be completed by Feb. 15.

The bill sets aside $80 million to increase home health care payments of 5 percent. Eighty percent of the increase is to go to higher wages.

Another $2 million would go to help increase nursing home salaries to comply with a higher minimum wage that is expected to go into effect soon.

The measure erases some health care cuts from the past couple of years.

It would also fund a student loan refinance program to lower student loan interest rates.

The University of Minnesota Duluth would get $2.5 million to deal with financial problems on the campus. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities would receive $17 million to help retain high-quality workers.

State highways would get $43 million more, with $5 million going to replace aging state snowplows.

Also included in the bill is a long-held desire by Sen. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, to study increasing two-lane road speed limits to 65 mph.

While a House bill raises money from railroads and pipelines carrying crude oil, the Senate version only adds to a rail assessment. Money gained from the assessment would be used to train first responders who respond to derailments.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.