Budget bills passage starts long legislative path in Senate

Published 10:08 am Tuesday, April 21, 2015

ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s Senate passed a pair of bills Monday to fund state agencies and Minnesota’s public colleges and universities, the first pieces to move as Senate Democrats and House Republicans stake out markedly different positions they’ll have to bridge in order to finalize the state’s $40 billion budget.

The Senate’s higher education budget would provide money for tuition freezes at public institutions and offer free tuition at community colleges to qualified high school graduates, while a bill that funds Minnesota’s state agencies starts making lease payments on a new $90 million office building for senators expected to open next year. In an unexpected turn, senators sent a strong signal to the owners of a Major League Soccer franchise with a near-unanimous vote to ban state funds from being used to build a new stadium.

Each bill passed largely along party lines, as Senate Republicans objected strongly to the office building payments after failing to strip them from the government budget bill. The higher education budget was less contentious, with Republicans mostly expressing concerns about the free college tuition proposal.

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Monday’s move sets up the first of many likely clashes between the Democrat-controlled Senate and a Republican-majority House. In the House, their higher education budget provides funding for tuition freezes only at two-year colleges.