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Plan For Shelling Out Rest Of Minn. Surplus Set

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Leading lawmakers announced Friday how they will dispense with what remains of Minnesota’s $1.2 billion projected budget surplus, a framework that suggests the election-year legislative session is moving quickly toward conclusion.

“It is the map to the end,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

Legislators expect a big push over the weekend to fill in specific details and ready the remaining tax and spending bills for final votes next week. A borrowing plan for construction projects, known as the bonding bill, will be unveiled in the Senate on Monday and put on a fast track.

The agreement among Democratic House and Senate majorities would allow for $103 million more in tax breaks on top of the $447 million already enacted this year. Some could go to homeowners, renters and farmers as property tax relief.

There is also $293 million in spending on new initiatives and shoring up existing programs. That could range from raises for long-term care workers, to extra staffing in state prisons, to grants for laying high-speed broadband cables in areas without reliable Internet connections.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the additional spending comes at the expense of greater tax cuts that his side wanted.

“The proportion is out of whack,” Hann said.

Another $200 million in cash would fund extra construction projects that lawmakers can’t fit into a bill that would authorize a bond sale of about $850 million. That means more than $1 billion in public works projects would come out of the session, as long as Democrats can recruit a small number of Republicans to achieve the supermajorities required to authorize the new debt.

The spending on permanent programs approved this year balloons in the years to come. And while the state has a projected surplus through 2017, the plan will consumes most of what is available later on.

The deal presumes that $400 million will be shifted into a health care account in the next two-year budget to offset costs related to the MinnesotaCare insurance program for the working poor. Without it, that account was at risk of drying up, and lawmakers would have had to consider reducing eligibility for the subsidized coverage.

As part of an earlier bill signed into law, $150 million was added to the state’s rainy-day reserves that can be tapped during future economic downturns.

Lawmakers have until May 19 to finish, though an early adjournment is a clear goal. Bakk said he’s getting pressure to have the session finished by next weekend.

“A lot of people have come to me here and asked me to get out of here by the fishing opener and by Mother’s Day,” he said.

(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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