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GOP-led coalition offers new budget with no education cuts

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 15, 2012 at 12:05 pm | No Comments »
March 15, 2012 12:20 pm

Senate Republicans and three breakaway Democrats today unveiled the first budget plan of the year — the first in several years, in fact — with no cuts or delays in spending on public schools or higher education.

Democrats were the first to draw a line against further cuts to schools, and Republicans are now moving in their direction, offering to ditch their proposed $75 million in education cuts, alter their pension plan and restore money for subsidized day care. It’s an attempt to compromise with Democrats while shoring up support within their own party.

Altogether their cuts are more than $100 million smaller, which they accomplish mainly by leaving a smaller cushion and relying on more money to go unspent by state agencies.

But the GOP-led coalition also has plenty of demands that Democrats won’t like, and even adds some, including allowing up to 10 charter schools in the state. Charter schools are banned now.

That joins a wish list that mostly focuses on more fiscally conservative budgeting and ending some of the state’s long-term liabilities:

  • lowering the debt limit.
  • killing off two rarely-funded school initiatives.
  • requiring balanced budgets over four years.
  • a government reform commission.
  • an overhaul of pensions.

That last one is a revised proposal that no longer would close any pension plans but would end an early-retirement benefit for future public employees that allows them to retire with a pension as young as 55 after 30 years of work. GOP budget writer Joe Zarelli said it would save $1.9 billion over 25 years that would be redirected to paying off pension shortfalls.

In exchange, Republicans would skip a payment into underfunded pension plans to take an immediate $143 million savings.

That proposal has been one of the major sticking points for Democrats, much as Republicans have refused Democrats’ plan to delay $330 million in school payments to the next budget period.

Here’s the new budget, along with a summary that compares each spending item with the previous Republican budget and the Democrats’ alternative.

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