Schwab: Surplus, ed funding top agenda for second half

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 16, 2001

As the fate of the state’s looming surplus goes up for grabs, Sen.

Friday, March 16, 2001

As the fate of the state’s looming surplus goes up for grabs, Sen. Grace Schwab, R-Albert Lea, said the battle lines in the Senate were drawn Thursday.

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Schwab said the DFL-controlled Senate wants to spend at least 60 percent of the projected $1.54 billion surplus, but Schwab is urging her colleagues to give it back to the taxpayers.

"It’s more important to increase the family budget than the state budget," Schwab said. "Whenever possible, we should find ways to let families keep more of their earnings to spend on family necessities."

The Senate on Thursday debated the "price of government" resolution, which sets the targeted cost of state and local government services to Minnesota residents, Schwab said. DFL leaders proposed 16.2 percent in 2002-2003 and 15.7 percent in 2004-2005.

During the debate, Schwab introduced an amendment dropping those targets to 15.9 percent in 2002-2003 and 15.5 percent in 2004-2005. The amendment represents a dramatic reduction in state government spending each year, Schwab said.

Schwab’s recommendation is close to Gov. Jesse Ventura’s plan to reduce spending to 16.0 percent in 2002, 15.8 percent in 2003, 15.6 percent in 2004 and 15.4 percent in 2005. House Republicans also support the governor’s plan.

Currently, Minnesotans pay 16.7 percent of their earnings into state and local taxes.

"I’m working to rein in government growth," Schwab said from her Capitol office Thursday. "State government spending has grown 15 percent in the last two years, well beyond the growth of personal income."

Schwab’s amendment was defeated on a party-line vote. While she battles with DFL senators over spending targets, Schwab intends to focus her efforts in the second half of the session on education funding, roads and bridges and nursing home concerns.

Through a redistribution of state spending, Schwab believes all three areas can see funding improvements. For example, Schwab thinks a $300 increase in the per-pupil funding formula is attainable.

"Education funding has gotten a lot of attention so far, and I support an increase in the basic funding formula," she said.

Along with education, Schwab said she senses growing support for rural transportation and nursing home funding. Both issues are crucial to Freeborn and Mower counties, she said.

"While government spending has grown, the legislature has been underfunding roads and bridges, especially in Greater Minnesota," Schwab said. "The information I’ve heard is that county roads have been shorted $190 million worth of maintenance and improvements."

Schwab said nursing homes are also suffering from rising costs, underpaid workers and a growing senior population.

"We need to improve our care of the elderly, and focus some resources on easing regulations and improving funding," Schwab said.

Schwab expects the debate at the Capitol to intensify as spending targets are set for individual committees.