By Pat Kessler

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — State Senate Democrats today unveiled how they’d spend Minnesota’s $900 million dollar budget surplus, and it’s a much different vision than one laid out by House Republicans last week.

That puts the two budgets on a collision course that might not be resolved by the time lawmakers go home next month.

The budget is a road map for the money — what projects state lawmakers want to fund this year. But don’t be surprised if they don’t get what they want.

Like fellow Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton, the Senate is putting millions of dollars into early education, teacher shortages and mental health counselors. And the Senate’s top Democrat Tom Bakk says Republicans for promising more than they can deliver.

“What I’d like to know is they continue to talk about all the things they are going to do in the tax area? Show me the money. Because it just isn’t there.”

The top 3 Senate priorities include:

  • $300 million in property tax relief and targeted aid to high unemployment areas.
  • $91 million for minority job training and tax credits.
  • $85 million for high speed rural internet service.

Senate Democrats don’t want to spend the surplus on transportation — they’re still counting on a gas tax hike to pay for road and bridge repair. That’s a no-go with the powerful Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt, who says roads must be funded with surplus money, not a tax hike.

“Democrats don’t want to take the money that Minnesotans have already given us and use that money to fund what Minnesotans expect us to fund, which is our road and bridge infrastructure,” Daudt said.

For the first time in years, some top Democrats say they are willing to go home this election year without a big transportation tax cut bill.

“I did tell the speaker last week — and I don’t think it’s a secret — that he’s going to have to figure out which bill he wants: a transportation bill or a tax bill. Because there’s not enough money for both,” Bakk said.

Complicating all of this, the economy may be slowing down and too much spending by either party could lead to another deficit down the road.

On top of everything else, lawmakers are now on a time crunch in an already unusually short legislative session. May 2 is the day the legislature must adjourn, and Nov. 8 is election day.

Pat Kessler

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