House budget bill leans toward greater Minnesota
ST. PAUL -- Much of the money in the Minnesota House's plan to tweak the state's two-year budget would go to greater Minnesota.
"We focused on rural Minnesota and greater Minnesota," House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said, because many rural parts of the state have not recovered from the recession as well as the Twin Cities.
The House passed the bill 70-59 late Thursday to add $322 million to the $39 billion, two-year state budget enacted last year.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the budget plan is one "Democrats are pushing like drugs on the House floor. They can't spend enough."
Provisions aimed at areas outside the Twin Cities include those giving a 5 percent increase to home health care providers, pumping more into rural nursing homes that pay employees $14 an hour or less, adding money to elderly meal programs that mostly serve rural Minnesotans, setting up grants to develop high-speed Internet connections, putting $6 million more into greater Minnesota economic development efforts, increasing spending more for highway repairs and creating a center to fight invasive plants and animals moving into the state.
When they were briefing the media on the budget bill, Democratic House Speaker Paul Thissen of Minneapolis and House Majority Leader Erin Murphy of St. Paul frequently pointed out items that would help rural or greater Minnesota.
For instance, they said, in approving $25 million for broadband Internet improvements, a fraction of what supporters wanted, businesses in areas of slow Internet coverage could become competitive with places that enjoy faster service.
“Expanded access to broadband Internet access is critical for greater Minnesota,” said Rep. Erik Simonson, D-Duluth. “If we want businesses to set up shop and expand in our communities, we need to provide them the resources they need in order to be successful. But in many areas of the state, high-speed Internet access just isn’t an option."
Murphy denied that the rural emphasis is an attempt to improve Democratic chances in this year's elections. At least seven rural House districts now held by Democrats are considered to be in play this year.