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South Washington County lawmakers back budget deal 'with reservations'

South Washington County lawmakers said they are not proud of the budget deal reached in an attempt to end the state government shutdown, but likely will vote for it anyway.

"I definitely wouldn't call it a masterpiece of a bill," said Rep. John Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove. "It's something that both sides aren't thrilled with."

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and Republican legislative leaders agreed to rely on borrowing to pay for $1.4 billion in new state spending in a two-year, $35 billion budget. Key lawmakers and Dayton's administration continued to work on details of the agreement early this week ahead of an expected special legislative session that would lead to the shutdown's end.

"It is not the way Minnesotans deserve to have this come about," said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. "It is what it is. It's just so hard when we have two philosophically different views."

Dayton had pushed for income tax increase on the wealthiest Minnesotans to pay for increased spending, while Republicans refused to accept tax increases and did not want additional spending.

As part of the agreement to break the months-long political logjam, Dayton and GOP legislative leaders agreed to $700 million in new spending by delaying payments to Minnesota schools. Under the proposal, 40 percent of payments schools expected next year would be delayed.

That shift comes on top of previous school aid payment delays.

"Borrowing $700 million from schools when we already owe them $2 billion is not a good thing," Kriesel said. He added that the final agreement to delay 40 percent of payments was better than an earlier Dayton proposal to delay half of payments.

The remaining $700 million in new spending would be paid for by borrowing against future state revenue from a tobacco industry settlement.

"We need to really be careful with how much we're borrowing," Kriesel said.

Part of Kriesel's frustration with the budget agreement stems from the absence of expanded gambling in the deal. He has been a vocal proponent of allowing expanded gambling at horse-racing tracks and creating a casino complex at downtown Minneapolis' Block E.

Still, Kriesel said he is leaning toward voting for a final budget package.

"Even with the reservations I have, we need to end the shutdown" and get 22,000 laid-off state employees back to work, Kriesel said. "I guess right now I'm inclined to support it."

McNamara is chairman of the House environment and natural resources committee, and his was one of the budget bills being negotiated in recent days after the July 14 budget breakthrough.

"We need to realize that we're 18 days now into a state shutdown," he said late Monday, "something that's unfortunate but it's real and it's where we're at and we need to end it as soon as possible."

That is the reason McNamara and other lawmakers cite for why they could support the unpopular budget-balancing plan.

"That's not something I'm proud to do more of," McNamara said of borrowing to pay for more spending. He said he was optimistic the final bills would include some government reforms agreeable to Democrats and Republicans.

Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, in recent days gave birth to her second child and was not immediately available to discuss the state budget work.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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