This week, the Minnesota Senate voted on the first budget bill of the legislative session. The new Republican majority in the Senate said they wanted to bring forward an early budget reduction bill that would start chipping away at the state’s $6.2 billion deficit.
Initially, I was glad to see an early focus on the budget, as it’s a big problem that deserves the legislature’s immediate attention. I was very disappointed by the types of cuts that were proposed, however, which is why I did not support this bill.
I understand that the state will need to make drastic spending cuts in order to solve our budget problem, but it’s the legislature’s job to make sure those cuts don’t do more harm than good. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what this bill will do. This very first budget bill that was brought before the Minnesota Senate will cause a $322 million statewide property tax increase, raising taxes on every single Minnesotan. It also will raise tuition at state colleges and universities, and eliminate services for the elderly, disabled, and children across the state. That is not how we put Minnesota back on track.
The bill I rejected asked for about a $500 million cut in state aids to cities and counties. On the surface, that sounds like a good idea – we’d reduce the state’s budget problem by $500 million. The problem is that for every $1 cut in state aid, property taxes are increased 67 cents, according to the non-partisan Department of Revenue. That’s because Minnesota made a deal with cities and counties several years ago to help fund basic community services so local property tax payers wouldn’t bear the burden. When this state aid is cut, communities either have to look to the property tax or consider cutting basic services.
The problem is more pronounced for those of us in rural Minnesota. In our communities, almost half of our local budgets are made up of state aids. Without that money, we’d all be looking at a lot more property tax increases or a lot less fire and police protection, road maintenance, snow plowing and other services. In fact, we’ve seen the effects of previous state aid cuts this winter, as snow removal budgets have been strained in many communities and homeowners’ property tax statements continue to rise.
In addition, this bill asked for nearly a $1.6 million cut to Northland Community and Technical College, and another reduction for the University of Minnesota-Crookston campus. Aside from that being a devastating blow to institutions that are vital to our local economy, the students and families struggling to pay for these higher education costs just can’t afford the tuition hike that cut would require.
A big part of the bill reduced funds that support children, the elderly and the disabled across Minnesota. In particular, much of the money is spent on child protection services. We heard from counties that said they’d have to cut back on child neglect casework if this money disappears. Emergency assistance provided to the state’s low-income elderly and disable residents also would suffer under this bill.
Finally, the legislation included potential cuts to veterans and the military, something I’m just not willing to support under any circumstance. The state’s fiscal office told us that this bill’s plan to take back most of the money that state agencies don’t spend before June 30, 2011, very likely would lead to reductions in reimbursements to honor guard units at military funerals or reintegration support for the National Guard. I believe everyone will need to sacrifice to help solve Minnesota’s problems, but this group of veterans already has sacrificed enough, in my opinion.
I am fully committed to solving our state’s budget crisis, but absolutely not on the backs of veterans and the military, property tax payers or families paying tuition. I look forward to having a more honest conversation about responsible spending cuts in the coming weeks. Governor Dayton will submit his budget proposal to the legislature Feb. 15, and the legislature will work off of that complete plan to find a compromise budget solution that will set up Minnesota for long-term success.