The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

March 23, 2013

Minn. Dems look to cut $150M from health programs

ST. PAUL — Democrats in the Minnesota Legislature are proposing $150 million in cuts from health and human services programs, a move that alarms advocates for the poor and has prompted criticism from other Democrats.

Minnesota House and Senate Democrats are proposing $2 billion in new taxes to erase the budget deficit and spend more on schools, economic development and other state services. But health and human services programs, which comprise the second-largest portion of the state’s two-year budget, might get slashed over concerns that the spending in that area is rising too quickly.

“This is the part of the budget that keeps me up at night because it is the thing that if we don’t continue to do the reforms and find the efficiencies in the system, we won’t be able to provide the services that the people of Minnesota expect,” DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen said.

The proposed spending cut troubles lawmakers who are in charge of crafting budgets for health services and human services, according to a Minnesota Public Radio report. They have to set priorities for spending for nursing homes, hospitals, subsidized health insurance and welfare.

DFL Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, said he’s not pleased with the proposed cuts, especially on the heels of Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature cutting $1.2 billion from health and human services programs two years ago.

“I’m very upset. I came close to resigning as chair,” Huntley said. “If that’s what the Democrats are going to do, what’s the difference between that and what the Republicans have done over the last two years?”

About 90 percent of the health and human services budget supports programs for the disabled and the elderly, Huntley said. It would be difficult to cut $150 million without hurting those people, he added.

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