Time running out to complete state budget

The legislature has reached the final days of the 2011 session. By May 23 – less than three weeks from now – we have to agree with the Governor on a budget under which the state will operate for the next two years. Right now, we have $5 billion less in the state’s coffers than we need to fulfill all of the obligations we’ve made. Those obligations include keeping hospitals and nursing homes open, keeping police departments funded across the state, providing tax deductions for things such as education, and other basic, everyday services.

We’ve known since January that we need to make serious spending cuts in order to erase the deficit and be able to fund Minnesota’s priorities. Many of my colleagues and I, as well as Governor Mark Dayton, believe that new revenue also needs to be part of the solution to make sure our schools, hospitals and most essential priorities don’t suffer. That’s been the main debate: What spending to cut, how much, and whether to raise revenue.

But at some point, the debate needs to turn to action. The majority parties in the House and Senate are required to present a budget proposal, as is the Governor. Governor Dayton presented his complete budget proposal in early March, which included deep spending cuts and new revenue to solve the deficit.

So far, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have not done the same. While they have passed a number of budget bills, their total budget plan is at least $1 billion short of solving the $5 billion hole. That’s a fact confirmed by non-partisan fiscal experts, not just rhetoric. The two Republican majorities in each body also have yet to sit down and work out differences between their two plans. If two groups from the same political party can’t come to a compromise, it’s difficult to think how they will be able to compromise with the Governor in the next 20 days. The House and Senate need to fill the more than $1 billion hole and send a legislative budget to Gov. Dayton soon.

Governor Dayton has made many efforts to begin these conversations. This week, he set a deadline of Friday, May 6 to complete the legislative budget work so negotiations can begin. So far, that has been met with little response, as conference committees haven’t progressed this week and the Senate has spent most of its time on policy bills that don’t address the budget at all.

We’re too far along in the legislative session to be at this place. We’ve had four months to have political debates; now it’s time to have an honest conversation about what we need to do to complete our work by May 23. I am ready to compromise on issues to come to an agreement, but I can’t do that until we have a budget package that balances to vote upon. I’m very hopeful that by next week, I’ll be able to report we’re closer to this goal.

If not, it’s increasingly likely that this Republican legislature will not finish its work on time. The new budget cycle begins July 1. There’s no way around it – either we finish our work and create a budget that funds our state’s services, or the government shuts down at midnight on June 30. That’s an unacceptable scenario that the people of Minnesota do not deserve.

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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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