Budget deadline quickly approaching

The 2011 legislative session must be completed by midnight on Monday, May 23 – just about two weeks from now. When we began this session on Jan. 4, Republicans and Democrats both pledged to address the top three priorities of this state during the five-month session: Solving the $5 billion deficit and completing a budget for the state to operate under for the next two years; supporting policies that to create and support jobs in Minnesota; and focusing on government reforms and innovations to strengthen our economy in the future.

On the last two goals, the legislature has made relatively good progress. Early in the session, we came together on a bipartisan basis to support business permitting reforms aimed at easing regulations that job-providers face, and speeding up the process. These were ideas brought forth by the Governor as well as the Republican leadership, and we all worked together on them to get the bills signed into law early in the year.

We also worked together on a tax conformity bill that made it easier for individuals and businesses to file taxes this year. The Agriculture Budget Bill is the first and only budget bill to be signed into law at this point. It will help provide important grants and loans to livestock producers, bio-energy awards and other rural economic infrastructure activities that could spur our economy.

However, the good progress we’ve made on the job and economic front could be for naught if the legislature doesn’t complete its first priority by May 23: Solving the $5 billion deficit and creating a new state budget. I’m worried that there’s a real risk that we won’t meet that goal.

While Governor Mark Dayton has had a complete, balanced budget proposal on the table since February, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate have yet to respond with a complete, balanced budget proposal of their own so serious negotiations can begin. Their current budget is $1 billion short of balancing the $5 billion deficit, and conference committees – panels of five lawmakers from each body that sit down to work out differences between the House and Senate bills – cannot agree upon their own budget. If people from the same political party can’t cooperate, it’s hard to imagine how they will compromise with the Governor in the next 14 days.

This week, Gov. Dayton admitted his optimism is waning for completing work in the next two weeks. The Republicans ignored his May 6 deadline for sending him the legislative budget, and they have proposed no deadlines of their own. He has stressed many times that until a legislative budget is presented, he has absolutely nothing to negotiate with.

So, many lawmakers like me, who believe in a balanced budget like the Governor’s and are eager to begin working toward compromise, continue to wait for the other side to come to the table so real work can begin. It’s a very frustrating position to be in. I have spent many months standing up for what I’m hearing from those of you back home – better and more jobs, support for schools, support for property tax relief and Local Government Aid – but I cannot continue that work until the Republicans allow the budget work to move forward.

I’m very hopeful that by next week, we’ve made more progress and are closer to meeting the May 23 deadline. In the meantime, if you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me at: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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