Partisan Start Should Not Distract From Efforts on Economy

I am disappointed by the partisan tone that has been the focus of the first few weeks-staffing cuts for only the DFL members and firing the Governor’s PUC appointment. I would like to move on from those issues and settle the business of the state.
My colleagues and I, on both sides of the aisle, agree that jobs and the economy should be the focus of this session. The need for increased economic growth and getting unemployed Minnesotans back to work is even more critical because of the fact that we will be facing another budget deficit next year.
To solve the budget deficit last year, the Republican majorities borrowed billions from our schools and from our future budgets, and raised property taxes in order to avoid making tough decisions on a long term budget. They simply “kicked the can down the road” until after the November election.
The budget they passed borrows nearly $3 billion to cover the majority of the state’s $5 billion deficit. The solution borrowed from our schools by expanding the state’s current K-12 school shift, meaning the state will only pay schools 60 percent of their funding in the current budget cycle, delaying payments on the remaining 40 percent until at least 2014. The money they borrowed has to be paid back and in the meantime, this has translated into a $2.1 billion cut to our schools.
The second provision borrowed $640 million against future tobacco settlement payments, a move that provides one-time revenue for the current budget by draining revenue that could be used in the future. It’s also expected to cost the state up to a half-billion dollars in interest.
The final component of their budget solution was to cut more than $2 billion from the Senate’s internal budget. I’m all about trimming the fat and finding savings in the budget, but unfortunately, some of these cuts hurt local homeowners and businesses. For instance, the Homestead Credit program was eliminated, which is why business, agricultural and homeowner property taxes went up drastically this year.
Locally, we have really felt the impact of these property tax changes. Residents who were already struggling with growing property tax bills continue to be nudged over the edge. I spoke an elderly woman who is very concerned she will not be able to afford to remain in her home because of increased property taxes. It also had a negative impact on our local economy since the change meant a heavy shift onto commercial, industrial and agricultural property.
The cuts that were made came from human services and higher education. Human services took a $1.2 billion cut. Child care assistance for working Minnesotans was cut by $20 million, and Children and Community Services Act grants, used to protect children from abuse and neglect, were cut by $22 million.
The 12 percent cut to the higher education system means continued tuition increases. The University of Minnesota’s budget will be reduced by $193.6 million (15 percent) and the Minnesota State College and University (MnSCU) system’s budget will see a $170 million (13.5 percent) cut. I am not against cutting state government, but these cuts are not how the people I hear from would prioritize government cuts.
Getting back to these priories is the first step to getting Minnesota back on track. If we can all agree that getting Minnesota back to work is priority number one, let’s focus on that rather than what divides us. Addressing this issue will put us in a better position next year to correct the budget deficit that lies ahead.
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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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