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Capitol Chatter: Budget debate turns into campaign debate

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota lawmakers from both parties signal they plan to use last year's rough budget debate as foundation for this year's legislative election campaigns.

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With all 201 legislative seats up for election, Minnesotans will hear a lot about state spending. And the two sides will spin the budget outcome.

House Minority Leader Rep. Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, appears eager to bring up the issue. He called the two-year budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton a "beg and borrow, property-tax-raising budget."

Republicans took a good deal of the credit for a slight state budget surplus announced Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the budget reflects state government reforms the Republican Legislature enacted a year ago. He said Republicans are "absolutely happy" with a budget report released Wednesday showing a $323 million surplus.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, added together a projected surplus from three months ago to the one announced Wednesday to come up with a $1.2 billion surplus.

Last year's budget deal, ending a 20-day state government shutdown and filling a $5 billion budget hole, was one that no one liked. But Republican leaders and Dayton said that was the best deal they could reach.

Thissen made it obvious that he plans to tack a sign on the back of Republican candidates blaming them for the ugly politics of last year. He called it a "shutdown budget."

And to drive home the point that Republicans ran the Legislature when the government closed, Thissen is talking about GOP-written bills that legislative committees are considering to allow government to remain operating if there is another budget stalemate.

Tribal land debated

Few people argue that the federal government cheated the six bands that make up the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe when it sold land 123 years ago for far less than what it was worth.

But a congressional proposal to repay $28 million did face resistance in a U.S. House committee.

Chairman Arthur LaRose of the Leech Lake Band told the committee that the band deserves 70 percent of the money, based on land the government sold, and warned a lawsuit could be expected if the band finds any settlement unfair.

The bill being considered divides the money equally six ways.

"My position has always been that Congress should not take an active role in these types of issues," U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told the committee. "I believe that all of the bands should come to an agreement on how to distribute this award and only then should Congress get involved."

But, Peterson said, the bands cannot agree so the bill is the best possible solution.

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., represents five of the six bands and said their leaders "have all made it very clear to me that it is more than past-time to bring resolution to this long-standing issue. I agree."

A BIG event

Thursday's Vikings stadium announcement attracted more media attention than most Minnesota political news events.

Long-time political reporters cannot remember a time with a similar turnout of colleagues for a similar event.

About 15 video cameras lined up, with more than half that many still cameras around the governor's reception room. Reporters crowded into three rows of chairs, spilling over into standing-room only areas.

Former state Sen. Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, said he had to "smile a little bit" when seeing the attention a sports stadium drew when compared to more weighty issues such as the state budget.

While presidential visits certainly attract national reporters and photographers, the Vikings announcement may have set a record for Minnesota-based media. National media boosted attendance at events related to Jesse Ventura becoming governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone dying in an airplane crash.

Water delayed

A southwestern Minnesota water project has been delayed too long, U.S. Sen. Al Franken says.

The Minnesota Democrat told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that it is time to complete the Lewis and Clark Regional Water System.

"The lack of access to water in southwestern Minnesota is hurting economic development in the region and preventing job creation," Franken said. "Local partners have paid their fair share of the Lewis and Clark water project, and now it's time for the federal government to hold up its end of the bargain."

Franken said the project needs $35 million a year until 2020, but this year's Obama administration budget includes just $4.5 million.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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