This week will mark six weeks before the legislature and the Governor must agree on a budget deal to complete the legislative session by May 23, the constitutional deadline. One of those weeks will be reserved for observation of Easter and Passover, which really leaves five weeks to complete our work.
The Senate and House finished passing budget bills through the respective chambers this week. Next week, conference committees will begin meeting to resolve differences between the two bills.
Governor Mark Dayton stands ready to begin negotiating a solution that will eliminate the $5 billion deficit and create a budget for Minnesota to live on for the next two years. In fact, he holds weekly breakfast meetings with leadership from the Republican Party to talk about these issues. At those meetings, he has been very clear that he will not discuss the budget until a complete, honest solution is proposed.
So far, that hasn’t happened. The budgets that we were asked to vote on during the past two weeks don’t solve the deficit. Governor Dayton has a budget proposal that does eliminate the $5 billion shortfall by using state government cuts and new revenue. The Republican majority’s budget plan claims to solve the deficit with only spending reductions, but in reality, only two-thirds of the budget includes real cuts to state government. Another $828 million in “savings” cannot be backed up by our state’s non-partisan finance experts. An additional $307.6 million in “savings” is just shifted out of other special accounts, such as the Fire Safety Account used to train firefighters across the state.
The budget also includes new revenue: about $35 million in new fees, in addition to $600 million in new property taxes for every Minnesota homeowner, renter and business owner.
The budget proposal also creates long-term problems for the state. It completely eliminates budget reserves – the “rainy day account” that exists for emergency situations. The Cash Flow Account, which state statute permits to balance around $350 million, is whittled down to just $50 million, leaving little money with which to pay day-to-day bills. When the state can’t pay bills, it is forced to borrow from school districts or businesses – something that has happened more than once during the past two years.
It’s clear that the Senate’s current budget proposal does not add up. Conference committees will begin meeting next week to work out details, but until an honest proposal is put on the table, it’s impossible for the Governor to begin real negotiations that will result in a budget before the May 23 deadline.