ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Republican lawmakers negotiating a health and welfare spending package made a key budget concession Thursday to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, deciding not to count on big savings from a state health care revamp that would need federal approval.
The move came as a House-Senate conference committee worked into the evening to finalize the second-biggest piece of the state budget.
The plan to seek federal waivers for flexibility and savings in state health care programs was a centerpiece of separate Senate and House health budget bills, with the goal of saving $300 million to $600 million over two years. The joint health bill still includes the plan for parts of state health programs, but doesn’t presume the money will come through.
Dayton repeatedly objected to the projected savings, saying that federal permission was unlikely.
“We’re just recognizing the desirability of having that arrangement with the federal government,” said Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, who heads a Senate health and welfare panel. Hann went to Washington last week to build support for the waiver plan in meetings with Minnesota’s congressional delegation.
Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said he hopes the concession will make it easier for Dayton and GOP lawmakers to work together to obtain federal permission to change state health care programs.
“We are all about moving toward the governor,” said Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, Hann’s counterpart in the House.
Even so, the remade health and welfare package still contains provisions that Dayton is likely to reject. It would repeal a Medicaid expansion for vulnerable adults, a plan he ordered as his first official act in January. Back then, the governor vowed to veto any legislation that would undo that move.
The bill instead would revive a more austere health care program launched during Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s administration.
The package would also cut $1.6 billion in general fund spending on health and social service programs — about twice as much as Dayton would like. Dayton’s top human services adviser praised the bill for being “more financially sound,” but outlined some concerns.
“One-point-six billion you don’t cut without harming a lot of vulnerable people and hurting the health care infrastructure we have, and that is very troubling to me,” said Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson.
The governor and majority Republicans remain far apart on a solution for Minnesota’s projected $5 billion deficit. Dayton aims to raise high-end income taxes while Republicans want to erase the shortfall through spending cuts. Health and welfare programs are one of the major sticking points.
Dayton said Thursday that he aims to look at House-Senate budget bills starting Sunday as a prelude to end-of-session negotiations. GOP Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch said the conference committees should wrap up work on budget bills by early next week.
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