Hands-off budgeting by the Republican Senate won’t solve the deficit

A proposal passed another committee this week to require Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) to reduce all agencies’ administrative expense planning estimates by 5% in each fiscal year from 2022 through 2025 in the February 2021 forecast. The Department of Human Services Direct Care and Treatment program and the Department of Veterans Affairs are the only two exemptions to the proposed cuts.

Instead of making targeted investments and reductions to address the anticipated $1.3 billion budget deficit, Republicans are attempting across-the-board reductions that will disproportionately affect agencies, their missions and programming, and the public employees who administer these services. Republican legislators who claim the deficit can be solved through budget cuts alone should be asked specifically what they would cut.

Republicans should also be asked how they can guarantee these arbitrary cuts won’t hamper Minnesota’s response to the pandemic, whether that means the health department that is responsible for testing, vaccinating, and managing the pandemic; the educators who are trying to keep our kids afloat during a crisis; or the department administering unemployment and job-retraining for laid off workers.

State agency operations are a relatively small part of the budget, and even a 10% cut would only save about $100 million, achieving little savings while seriously limiting the quality of public services these agencies are able to provide. Health and human services and K-12 education account for about 70% of the state budget. Those are two areas that clearly need the most attention right now, not deeper cuts.

Republicans that support this bill are taking a hands-off approach to budget negotiations instead of working with the Walz administration to find targeted savings that can help balance the budget. This legislation would lead to arbitrary and harmful cuts to agency budgets during a critical time when specific investments need to be made to ensure an effective pandemic response. (SF 3)