Senate Democrats today voted against a bill that would increase property taxes by $428 million, raise tuition at the state’s colleges and universities, cut funding to child protection, and jeopardize public safety and veterans programs. The so-called “Phase One” budget bill (House File 130) was approved with unanimous Republican support, and will now head to Gov. Dayton’s desk.
“Republicans promised that their budget solution would not raise taxes and would protect veterans, kids, and public safety,” said Senate DFL Caucus Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “This bill breaks all of those promises. It raises taxes on every homeowner, business owner and renter in the state, cuts funding to protect abused and neglected children, and puts key services for veterans at risk.”
Under the bill, aid to cities and counties would be cut by roughly $487 million, a move the Department of Revenue warns will increase property taxes on Minnesota homeowners and businesses by $322 million. The bill also cuts the property tax refund program for renters by $106 million, which will lead to a direct $170 tax increase on every Minnesota renter.
Other provisions in the bill would cut $185 million from the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, and $46.5 million for vulnerable children, adults, and seniors. This includes a 25% reduction in state funding for a program that helps counties investigate reports of child abuse and neglect.
The bill would also ask Gov. Dayton to cut $100 million from current state agency budgets. Minnesota Management and Budget has confirmed state agencies only have about $215 million in unspent funds remaining for the fiscal year. By eliminating nearly half of state agencies’ remaining 2011 budgets, the agencies with the largest unspent budgets will most likely be targeted. This includes public safety, military affairs, and veterans’ affairs.
Senate Democrats expressed deep concern over the potential impact this bill could have on military and veterans services. As presented, the bill jeopardizes up to $3 million in military and veterans services, including:
· $908,000 for reintegration counseling for members of the National Guard;
· $136,000 in repairs to Minnesota Veterans Homes;
· $106,000 in assistance to student veterans and Minnesota’s public and private colleges; and
· $73,000 for Honor Guards to provide military rites at funerals.
Sen. Roger Reinert, DFL-Duluth, moved to send the bill back to committee so that language could be added exempting veterans and military services from these budget cuts. However, Republicans unanimously opposed the move, leaving funding for veterans and military services at risk.
“Funding for Minnesota’s veterans should not be on the chopping block during the very first round of budget cuts,” said Sen. Reinert, a fourth generation service member. “That’s why I moved to send this bill back to committee: to make sure there is no possibility of even one dollar being cut from the brave men and women of our military. I’m disappointed the Republican majority wouldn’t work with us to spare veterans programs from their budget axe.”
Sen. Bakk urged Republican leaders to present Minnesotans a complete plan for solving the state’s budget deficit. The “Phase One” budget bill passed today would only solve about 14% of the deficit.
“We know we are going to face difficult choices as we confront this budget crisis, and many painful cuts will need to be made,” said Sen. Bakk. “But what we need is a strategic plan for fixing our short-term budget challenges while positioning our state for long-term economic success. Unfortunately, this bill provides no plan, no leadership, and no solutions for Minnesotans.”