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GOP budget $3 billion less than Dayton's

Senate Republicans say they want to spend $34.3 billion in the next two years, about the same as in the current budget.

While big cuts will be needed in some spending areas, it appears local government aids would not sustain cuts as deep as many expected.

House Republicans will release their overall budget outline later today, and it is expected to be very similar to the Senate plan.

Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton proposes a $37.4 billion budget. The current two-year budget, which ends June 30, is expected to hit the $34.6 billion mark.

Under the Senate GOP plan, health program spending would increase 5.9 percent and public school education 2.5 percent. Most other parts of government would shrink to make room for increased spending in those areas, which make up much of the state budget.

Among the biggest percentage cuts would be in state government innovation funds (about 50 percent less) and environment, energy and commerce spending (29 percent cut).

Mayors from across Minnesota met with Dayton on Wednesday expressing their interest in continued local aid payments from the state. Many of them feared Republican budget plans would make major cuts.

While Republicans' exact local aid figures are yet to be produced, the general spending category shrunk less than some local officials feared.

The $3 billion budget pot that contains local aids would be almost $300 million smaller under the GOP Senate plan than in the current budget. However, the budget area that also includes tax credits such as paid to renters had been expected to grow to $3.5 billion.

The budget outline only contains general figures. Senate leaders say their committees have until March 25 to decide what to spend under the general guidelines announced today.

"We are going to live within our means," Deputy Senate Majority Leader Geoff Michel, R-Edina, said, not what lawmakers would like to spend.

While Dayton calls for a tax increase on the richest 5 percent of Minnesotans, Republicans rejected that idea because they say it would hurt businesses.

"This is a time out for taxpayers," Michel said.

Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said the spending includes an expected $33 billion in revenue in the next two years and $1 billion left unspent in the current budget.

A Minnesota union leader said the GOP plan is bad news.

"Middle class families looking for relief from sluggish job growth and regressive property taxes will be sorely disappointed with the Senate Republicans' budget targets," Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson said. "Draconian cuts to job creation tools and our colleges and universities are job killers that take Minnesota backwards."

Higher education spending would be cut 16 percent.