Skoe says no to property tax, tuition hikes

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill Thursday that aimed to cut about one-sixth of the state’s budget deficit. It does so by increasing property taxes $322 million statewide, cutting funding for higher education institutions by $185 million, and eliminating money from state agencies for things like Veterans Home repairs and state park maintenance this spring and summer. I did not support this early cut bill.

At first, Senate Republicans said they were introducing the bill because it simply made permanent the temporary budget cuts passed by the legislature last May. Upon closer look, it became clear that we weren’t being asked to re-do a previous vote – this bill asks for a new package of budget cuts, not offset by federal money, that will have a big impact on families across Minnesota.

In 2009, the legislature passed a balanced budget that then-Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed after session adjourned. He went forward with his own, independent cuts to programs that eliminated the budget deficit. Then, in May 2010, just three weeks before the legislature adjourned for the year, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled those unallotments unconstitutional, forcing the legislature to work to find $3 billion to solve the budget deficit and end session on time.

In an effort to compromise and fulfill our Constitutional obligation to end session on May 16, the legislature submitted to most of the Governor’s budget-cut requests. Those cuts included reductions to state aids to local governments, higher education, health and human services and a few other areas. Besides wanting to save taxpayers money and adjourn session on time, we agreed to those cuts because federal stimulus dollars were available to cushion the impact of many of these cuts.

For instance, last year, the $185 million in cuts to higher education were mitigated because colleges and universities received federal stimulus dollars that prevented them from raising tuition. Now, those same institutions have told us they very likely will need to pass these cuts onto students and families.

The non-partisan fiscal analysis of this bill says 15,000 students will lose out on financial support or scholarships because of the cuts in this bill. The column I wrote last week referenced recent discussions in the Senate Higher Education Committee – the State Grant Program is facing a 35 percent deficit, and Minnesota students already carry the sixth-highest debt load in the country. This isn’t the right direction for the state.

In the area of state aid to local governments, last year’s legislature made an agreement to reduce that spending temporarily to respond to the emergency budget deficit situation. However, we also agreed to revisit the issue this session to make sure no city or county was being overly burdened. The Minnesota Department of Revenue tells us 67 cents of every $1 cut in state aid results in property taxes, so lawmakers need to be absolutely clear about the effects of their cuts before moving forward with more.

This year, we were asked to make permanent one-time cuts we agreed to last year, risking a $322 million property tax increase and drastic reduction in local services in communities across the state. This is not the right direction for the state.

Governor Mark Dayton has been very clear that he is not interested in a piecemeal budget plan. He is set to release his own, full budget proposal on Feb. 15, and he will be looking for full budget proposal from the legislature with which to compare his ideas. When $6.2 billion needs to be eliminated, it’s important to consider the big picture rather than just a few cuts at a time, and that’s exactly what my colleagues and I will be working toward in the coming weeks at the State Capitol.

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Senator Rod Skoe
Rod Skoe represents District 2, which includes all or portions of Becker, Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Otter Tail and Wadena counties in the northwestern part of the state. He chairs the Tax Committee.

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