Minn. House Poised To Vote On Deep Health Cuts

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House prepared to vote Wednesday on deep cuts to projected health and welfare spending, the last in a lineup of budget bills, as Republicans who run the Legislature finished their opening offer to solve the state’s $5 billion deficit.

Earlier Wednesday, the House passed a bill that would slash state agency budgets by a third while reducing the state work force 15 percent by 2015. With the Senate already done voting on its own budget bills, the spending plans for public schools, colleges, courts, prisons, job programs and more are headed to legislative negotiating panels charged with reconciling differences between the chambers’ approaches.

The GOP bills spell out a framework for erasing the budget shortfall without state tax increases. But top Republicans have yet to begin serious budget talks with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who wants to raise taxes for the state’s top earners.

The health and social services bill would bring sweeping changes to Minnesota health programs while cutting spending by $1.7 billion from projected levels in the next two years.

It would unravel a Medicaid expansion Dayton ordered this year for 100,000 vulnerable adults, eliminate MinnesotaCare coverage for 7,200 adults and give other MinnesotaCare enrollees subsidies to buy private insurance. It counts on saving $300 million by getting federal permission to tinker with Medicaid, known in the state as Medical Assistance. Services for disabled people would also be cut significantly from projected spending levels.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, the bill’s sponsor, said big changes are needed to curb the fastest-growing area of state spending.

“If you think nothing can change in this area and that will be fine, you are woefully mistaken,” he said.

Dayton’s top advisers raised objections. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said $750 million of the cuts are unsubstantiated by state fiscal analysts and the rollback of the Medicaid expansion would result in the loss of $1.3 billion in federal money over three years. Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger predicted the bill would undo big pieces of a health care overhaul the state adopted in 2008, including stripping funding for prevention programs and efforts to save money by better coordinating patient care.

Debate was slow to start on the bill, with the House recessing for two hours Wednesday evening. A final vote was likely to come early Thursday.

Earlier, the House passed the state government bill on a party-line vote of 72-61. The bill would cut state agency spending 34 percent in the next two years, requiring a 12 percent reduction in the state work force by mid-2013 and another 3 percent reduction by 2015.

Republicans said the bill would slim state bureaucracy while Democrats bashed it for cutting state workers.

“We can’t afford to lose a single middle-class job,” said Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, the bill’s sponsor, denied Democratic suggestions that the bill was an assault on state workers.

“The problem is not state employees,” said Lanning, R-Moorhead. “The problem is our deficit. The problem is we cannot avoid spending reductions.”

Only agencies serving veterans would be spared the spending cuts. The bill also would start a commission to review unnecessary state programs and spending, beef up tax collection, reduce middle managers at state agencies, implement a performance-based pay measure for state workers and outsource some services.

Lawmakers and Dayton have until May 23 to agree on a budget during the regular legislative session. The current budget cycle terminates at the end of June.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • Randy

    Outsourcing services is that the GOP version of sending jobs to India ?

  • Citizen

    Randy, outsourcing services as done by government means throwing a block grant at a private company, whose CEO and management team pocket most of the money, and then pay the workers diddly squat for their labor. Yep, sounds like Indian/China to me! As for accountability, there is none because the CEO/management doesn’t work for the taxpayers as do the public servants who have to endure political repercussions and the legislators who are elected. Ask a federal employee how well contracting services has worked for the federal government as they were greatly expanded by “W” so his cronies could get their hands on big wads of taxpayer money.

  • Chuck

    Just a thought, when we lay off public workers are they counted as unemployeed? If so, how does this help the employment situation?

  • Kim

    Chuck, state employees are definitely considered unemployed when they get laid off. So, every state worker who is laid off becomes a statistic, and also gets unemployment benefits. While it seems like laying off a large number of the state workforce is a great idea, the actual savings may not be a huge as many claim. Also, those same state workers may be entitled to other programs such as free lunches at schools, free or reduced medical care costs, etc.

  • Terry

    So what. Are we supposed to keep them as employees despite the outrageous debt we have? These free lunches, by the way, are absurd. The taxpayers need to take on everyone’s hunger issue too? Yeah, I’m okay with helping those out during a time of crisis except for the fact that many people live in a state of crisis and keep making poor decisions to keep them in that state. Time to own up to your personal decisions in your life and take responsibility at some point. There are always a few who have legitimate reasons for being in a constant crisis but there aren’t nearly as many that put themselves in that situation. You can’t rely on someone else all the time, it gets old.

  • Pete

    Here’s a little bit of news for our friend Terry – The State of Minnesota is self insured. The unemployment checks for the laid off state workers come from the taxpayers – along with health insurance and retraining costs. The money saved will amount to less than 24 million – where does the other 4.976 billion come from? Minnesota has the 10th smallest state workforce of all the states. Before you fix something – make sure it’s broken. You want to blame someone – look to Jessie Ventura and Tim Pawlenty – if they would have left Arnie Carlson’s Tax structure alone there would be a 600 million dollar surplus right now. But, Hey – GE only had 14 + billion in profits – why should they pax taxes?

  • T-Bone

    I voted republican for the last time in 2010. They have become a party that rips teachers, bus drivers, and social workers. They claim everyone should be self reliant then give crutch after crutch to big business. Cut the corprate welfare. Does anyone know what 3m or medtronic paid in minnestota taxes? The answer is very little. Finally do you know what the taxes are in china? It like 60 to 90 percent. So why is it profitable to make things there? Because wages. are so low . Do republicans really expect us to compete with there imports by lowering taxes? What we need is less corprate welfare and more terrifs. I am sick of the 3ms of the world thriving under a blanket of American security while paying no taxes and shipping jobs over seas

    • Whatever

      You’ve never voted Republican in your life so stop pretending you did.

      • Fred

        @Whatever. You have no reason from the post to call tbone a liar
        I have never voted a straight one party ballot in my life. The Republicans are so idiotic on this that I will give great pause before I vote for another. They have not begun conferencing with the governor. Would it not have been smarter to start with conferencing with the democrats?

  • Paul

    I bet the people who voted for the Republicans and now find out just what they are doing with the budget will wish that they hadn’t voted that way. Wait till this becomes a reality and it will affect them.

    In my opinion, I see a train wreck coming!

  • M B

    I’ll bet twenty dollars these cowards in the Republican party in congress would be unwilling to trim down their own– paid for us taxpayers no less– health care plans, Yet they sit there willing to cut health aid to those Minnesotans that need the health care most.

    They speak of everybody sacrificing, except for themselves, and I am so tired of the hypocrisy that it makes me want to get sick. Ahh, but I can’t afford to get sick because their bedfellow corporations make it too expensive. Bummer.

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