Capitol notebook: GOP wants to cut 5,000 jobs to save millions
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Republicans hope to cut 15 percent of state government jobs, nearly 5,000 positions, by 2015 in an effort to save $369 million in the next two-year budget and $696 million in the next budget.
In a Monday meeting, Democrats said that state workers should not be punished. However, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he sees things differently.
"The workers of this state are not the problem," Lanning told the House Ways and Means Committee Monday. "The problem is the deficit."
A bill by Rep. Keith Downey, R-Edina, was the basis for the Monday's debate. The bill is progressing on its own, but also incorporated in many of the spending bills lawmakers already have passed.
Democrats complain that the bill could affect Minnesotans' safety. Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said food safety inspections could be hurt if the 15-percent cut is enacted.
However, Lanning and Downey said that the bill should not be too specific about what jobs would be eliminated.
"There is some flexibility for the governor to do this the way he sees fit," Downey said.
Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, could not get Republicans to tell him how many jobs their spending bills would create and if that would be more than they propose eliminating.
Marriage definition debated
A House committee Monday approved 10-7 a proposed constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage.
While state law already defines a marriage as being between one man and one woman, proponents want the provision in the Constitution because it is more difficult to change than a law.
Law professor Dale Carpenter of the University of Minnesota, calling himself a conservative Republican, argued in the Civil Law Committee against the amendment, saying it could "ignite a new round in the culture war. ... We should not be starting fires in Minnesota; we should be putting them out together."
An expensive advertising campaign for and against the amendment, which would be on the 2012 ballot, would waste money that should be spent on "our pressing needs," Carpenter said.
Those who like the amendment, however, said God supports a one-man, one-woman marriage definition.
The Rev. Per Nilsen of Rosemount and Hastings Lutheran churches said that is a "clear definition in the Bible."
"The impact on religious freedom will be very real," Nilsen added.
Bishop Paul Sirba of the Duluth Diocese said that other religions than Christianity oppose gay marriage.
However, the bishop said, gays should have the right to live and love without discrimination. "Persons with same sex attractions are our sisters and brothers."
The amendment would take the gay-marriage decision out of legislators' hands.
"The time has come for society to decide the future of marriage," Sirba said.
Bruce Ause of Red Wing, who has a lesbian daughter, said that the state must "protect all Minnesotans equally," but the proposed amendment is "one of dividing and conquering."
Jeff Wilfahrt of Rosemount, whose gay son died in Iraqi fighting, said supporters of the amendment "march lockstep with a denial of reason." He said veterans and those still in the military are "not going to take kindly" to denying a group's civil rights.
The proposed amendment also is progressing through the Senate.
Budget vs. social
Democrats complain that Republicans in charge of the Legislature are taking too much time debating social issues instead of balancing the next two-year budget, which faces a $5 billion deficit.
As of Monday afternoon, Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, said, there were six non-budget constitutional amendments up for debate this week while only four budget negotiations sessions were set.
"We have 20 days to finish the budget," Hilstrom said.
But Chairman Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, said that a Friday deadline for policy issues means non-budget bills must be debated this week.
Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said the final three weeks of the regular legislative session will be busy with both policy and budget issues.
"Assume that the next three weeks we will be working very, very hard," Koch said.
Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.