Sen. Cohen: Republican budget bill has real impacts, little input

Minnesota Senator Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, expressed concern Wednesday after Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee passed a bill that is predicted to increase property taxes $322 million, increase tuition among state colleges and universities, and eliminate or reduce child protection and mental health services provided by counties.

“The fact that the very first bill passed by the new Senate majority will increase costs on working families, vulnerable children and adults is very concerning,” Sen. Cohen said. “What’s more, the people that will be impacted by these terrible cuts didn’t have a chance to have their voices heard because this bill only received one, 90-minute hearing. This does not bode well for how the rest of what will be a very difficult budget session will be handled, I fear.”

In addition to cutting state aids to cities and counties, grant programs for children and vulnerable adults, and higher education, Senate File 60 asks the Department of Management and Budget to make $125 million in unspecified reductions to yet-unspent state agency funds before the end of the current Fiscal Year, which ends June 30. Although certain programs are restricted from being cut, many – such as $4 million for public safety and $731,000 for veterans affairs programs – are not.

“We know this bill will increase property taxes; we know it will make tuition more expensive for Minnesota kids, but there are a lot of things we don’t know, and that’s what’s worrisome,” Sen. Cohen said. “We are being asked to approve a bill that makes millions of dollars in cuts without knowing where those cuts will be directed. That’s what happens when legislation doesn’t receive proper vetting. We’re going to end up with some very harmful, unintended consequences if this bill is signed into law.”

Sen. Cohen added that former Governor Tim Pawlenty often questioned specifics of proposed budget cuts, particularly in the area of public safety and corrections. He wouldn’t approve budget bills without understanding how reductions would affect the general well-being of the state, a practice Senate Republicans now are dismissing entirely.

In addition, former Gov. Pawlenty and Governor Mark Dayton both have voiced agreement that budgets cannot be passed in a piecemeal fashion. Gov. Pawlenty vetoed bills that were passed in absence of a total budget solution, and Gov. Dayton reiterated those sentiments in response to Senate Republicans’ bill last week, Sen. Cohen said.

“The Republican majorities continue to push a piecemeal budget solution that will result in real tax increases on Minnesota families, force colleges and universities to raise tuition even further, and eliminate services for the most vulnerable in our society,” Sen. Cohen said. “Even worse, we haven’t even been given adequate time to hear from those that will be impacted by these reductions. My advice to the Republican majority is simple: Put a complete budget solution on the table, and allow Minnesotans time to review and comment on the proposal before you vote on their behalf.”

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Senator Richard Cohen
Richard Cohen represents District 64, which includes portions of the city of Saint Paul in Ramsey County.

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