Governor Mark Dayton presented his State of the State address this week and stressed the need for the legislature and governor to put aside politics and work together on a responsible solution to the state’s $6.2 billion budget deficit. In his terms – and I agree with the governor – “responsible” means a solution that doesn’t burden one group too heavily, and which solves the short-term deficit as well as sets up the state for future economic success.
The day after this address was delivered, Senate Republicans unanimously passed their first budget bill of the session, and that bill did nothing that the governor asked. It picks a few groups of Minnesotans to bear all $900 million of the cuts included in the bill. In addition, it only addresses one-sixth of the state’s deficit, leaving $5 billion problem yet to be solved.
Specifically, property tax payers across the state will suffer a $428 million property tax increase under this bill. That means every homeowner, business owner and renter will see higher costs. This is based on an estimate from the non-partisan Department of Revenue that says for every $1 in state aid to cities and counties that is eliminated at the state level, local property taxes increase 67 cents.
This is a particular problem for property tax payers in rural Minnesota. In our communities, roughly half of our city and county budgets are made up of state aids. When that much of the local budget is eliminated, the only choice is to raise property taxes, cut jobs or seriously reduce local services such as police and fire protection.
Aside from property taxes, this bill also included some big cost increases for other groups in Minnesota. Anyone paying for tuition at a state college or university very likely will see tuition increases as a result of the $185 million cut to higher education. The non-partisan fiscal analysis of this bill says 15,000 students will lose out on financial support or scholarships because of the cuts in this bill, at a time when Minnesota students already carry the sixth-highest debt load in the country.
There also are potentially worrisome cuts to veterans and military programs in this legislation. The bill asks state agencies to eliminate $100 million from their budgets before June 30 in an effort to save money this fiscal year. The only problem is that much of the unspent money at state agencies is being reserved for important purposes. Reimbursements for honor guards at military funerals still need to be made, and there are needed repairs at the state’s Veterans’ Homes. I believe it’s important to protect those types of services from budget reductions, even in the most dire circumstances.
I am very much committed to working on a budget solution that solves Minnesota’s current, $6.2 billion deficit, and I know that solution will need to involve difficult spending cuts as well as new revenue. However, I am not going to support ideas that do nothing for the long-term health of this state. Raising costs on families paying property taxes, or paying for higher education will not move our state forward. We need to look at solutions that are more well-rounded, which is what I intend to focus on once Gov. Dayton’s full budget proposal is released next week.