So far, budgets don’t balance at state Capitol

As I predicted last week, the Minnesota Senate spent most of this week debating budget bills on the Senate Floor. The body passed budgets for education, health and human services, state government, public safety, environment and natural resources, agriculture, and jobs and economic development.

Next week, we will consider a tax bill and a transportation funding bill, and then all of these proposals will begin being debated with the House and Governor in order to solve the $5 billion budget deficit by May 23.

The bills that passed this week do not come close to solving that $5 billion problem. That is one of the reasons I didn’t support any of these proposals. The Health and Human Services bill, for instance, claims to save $603 million by asking the federal government for a waiver on Medicaid coverage requirements. Right now, states receive federal funds to help offer health coverage to residents below a certain income level. This is a state-federal partnership meant to provide basic coverage so our hospitals’ emergency rooms – and insurance-premium payers – don’t bear the burden of paying for health care for very low-income families.

The Senate’s health care budget assumes the state could save money by eliminating this health coverage for about 100,000 adults and children, but Minnesota needs a federal waiver to make this change. Experts at the state and federal level have said this waiver is not legal, yet the savings are counted in this bill.

The Senate’s State Government and Veterans budget is similarly off-balance. It counts on $217 million in savings that the state’s top, non-partisan financial experts do not validate. The bill has good intentions, seeking to save money by improving the way the state purchases goods and improving tax compliance methods. State agencies, however, said it’s unrealistic to believe the state could save anywhere near $217 million because Minnesota already is a national leader in these types of efficiencies. In addition, the same bill cuts the state workforce by 15%, eliminating the support staff that would be needed to actually increase tax audits and compliance efforts.

Relying on invented numbers is no way to balance the state’s budget. As elected officials, we are charged with keeping very close watch of state dollars to ensure we have enough money to fund the things we need. I happen to agree with Governor Mark Dayton that we need new revenue in order to support the things that Minnesotans expect the state to provide – things like keeping our state parks open, which is threatened in the environment budget that passed this week.

The Republican majority in the Senate does not believe we need new revenue and wants to solve this budget through cuts alone. I accept that philosophical difference of opinion and stand ready to debate each side of that issue in a mature, responsible manner. It’s not at all responsible to budget with invented numbers just to make the budget look balanced. We deserve an honest conversation.

Governor Dayton has been very clear that he will not accept a budget without documented, sound numbers to support the savings. I am hopeful that we all can agree on this basic expectation very soon so we can begin debating an honest budget and finish our work in the next eight weeks, on time and without the need for a special session.

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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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