Potholes, preschools, prisons: Senate approves $209M in extra spending

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The Minnesota Senate has approved a $209 million bill that would hike spending for dozens of state programs, including preschools, pothole patching, prisons, and pay raises for caregivers for the elderly and disabled.

The DFL-controlled chamber approved the measure 37-27 Tuesday after more than 20 failed attempts by Republicans to amend it. GOP lawmakers sought more tax relief, not additional spending. The final bill amounted to "a disappointing display of misplaced priorities,” Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said.

The House approved a $322 million version of the bill last week, so negotiators from the two bodies will try to hammer out the differences before sending it to Gov. Mark Dayton after a Passover/Easter break.

The bill would effectively make a relatively small adjustment to a two-year, $39 billion budget the Legislature approved last year, the Pioneer Press notes.

The money for the extra spending would come from a projected $1.2 billion state surplus. Some of that surplus has been spent already – roughly one-third of it on a tax cut that benefits low- and middle-income earners and businesses.

Among the Senate legislation's provisions is one that provides a 5 percent pay raise for state-paid workers who aid many of Minnesota's 92,500 elderly and disabled. The help allows them to remain at home when nursing homes might be the only other option.

The Pioneer Press and Star Tribune note that the bill also contains:

– $41 million in new education funding, more half of that for pre-school programs

– $26 million for public colleges next year, $17 million of which for programs aimed at retaining "high-quality faculty and staff."

– $20 million to fix potholes, and $10 million to replace snow plows and buy other ice and snow removal equipment.

– $11 million to accommodate growth in the state prison population, including the cost of renting beds from county jails

– $9 million for training for a new teacher evaluation law to take affect statewide this year

– $3.5 million in additional money to pay for hot lunches for students who cannot afford them

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