Compromise rejected; session ends without budget

The 2011 Legislative Session came to a disappointing close on May 23, as Republicans legislative leaders adjourned the session without accomplishing their constitutional responsibility to balance the state’s budget. Not only did they not present a plan to fully solve the $5 billion deficit; they failed to produce a budget for the state to operate under for the two-year cycle that begins July 1.

Legislative leaders now have five weeks to continue negotiating with Governor Mark Dayton on finding a compromise solution, or face the prospects of a wide-spread government shutdown on July 1.

I am frustrated by the session’s conclusion because it could have been avoided. Governor Dayton twice offered significant compromise on his original budget proposal that included a mix of revenue increases and spending cuts. Most recently, a week before session ended, he cut his revenue proposal in half, asking only the top 2 percent of income earners in Minnesota to pay a fraction more in income taxes – the same amount of income the rest of Minnesotans pay in taxes – and accepted almost $2 billion in spending cuts being offered by Republicans. He literally met them half-way.

The Republican leadership stood united just hours after the compromise was offered and rejected the proposal. In the final week of session, they made no attempt to come close to Gov. Dayton’s position and, instead passed a variety of budget bills off the Senate and House floors and sent them to the Governor’s desk, knowing he wouldn’t sign them.

Those bills included a $1 million cut to Local Government Aid for Albert Lea, a $1.7 million reduction to Albert Lea Medical Center, and a 14 percent cut to Riverland Community College – the largest reduction in state history, which means laying off employees and cutting programs that have proven successful. That’s why I continue to stand behind Gov. Dayton’s latest budget offer, which would cut spending by nearly $2 billion and protected 98 percent of Minnesotans from property or income tax increases while avoiding these devastating cuts.

The Albert Lea Chamber of Commerce, as well as other business groups in Greater Minnesota, lent their voices to this debate during the legislative session because they understand that making these types of cuts is bad for our communities and bad for business. Adding more people to unemployment or increasing property taxes so people are priced out of their homes is no way to get Minnesota on track. These groups understand the need for compromise, and I deeply appreciate that sentiment. I think it’s one we all need to embrace.

There were areas of agreement this year, to be sure. As the lead Democrat on the Energy Committee, I helped pass a bipartisan bill that will provide relief to ratepayers in our area. I worked to pass a bipartisan banking bill that puts regulations in place for banks and credit unions statewide, and the Cedar River was designated a state waterway in one of the final environment bills. In addition, I was a member of the Agriculture Committee, which was the only budget bill that has passed into law to-date.

Clearly, we have the ability to work together – we just need both sides to make it happen. Minnesotans expect lawmakers to find common ground and complete our work on time, but that can’t happen unless both sides give up some of what they want in order to come together for what the state needs. I sincerely hope that in the coming days, Republicans realize the need for compromise and come to the table so we can quickly end this stand-off, avoid a government shut-down, and finish the work Minnesotans expect us to do.

If you have any questions or concerns as budget negotiations continue, 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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