Minnesota State Legislators have achieved bipartisan unanimity: everyone agrees that the Minnesota state budget deficit should, once again, be balanced by raiding money from Minnesota’s schools. It’s a dubious achievement.
A complete budget package emerged very early Monday morning and State House and State Senate Democrats have agreed to Governor Pawlenty’s proposal shifting 1.4 billion dollars out of this year’s K12 funding line and into next year’s. The payment delay is best understood as a piggy bank raid, filching a child’s funds in return for a pencil-scrawled I-O-U promissory note. The payment shift continues the bipartisan budget resolution practice established over the past several years.
As a practical matter, the payment transfer delays force schools to reduce expenses, raise property taxes or borrow money to meet short-term spending obligations like the electric bill or paying for school lunch food. In truth, most school districts will be forced to into two if not all three.
This is not an auspicious moment in Minnesota’s history. It’s made all the more uncomfortable by its bipartisan nature.
Minnesota public policymakers, guided by, or at least trapped by, Governor Pawlenty’s conservative public policy vision, have decreased Minnesota’s investment in children’s education. Our state has experience a real, 15% cut in state allocations since 2003. That’s not budget growth restraint. It’s less money spent now than Minnesota spent seven years ago. Robbing school districts’ required budgetary reserves accounts (withheld state payments forces school districts to use cash-on-hand to pay their bills, likely lowering required reserves beneath state law’s minimum balance) is profoundly altering Minnesota’s future growth opportunities.
I’ve been listening to legislative insistence on bipartisan cooperation for the past several years. If establishing a pattern of regular educational payment transfer raids is the product of that vision, it’s time for Minnesota legislators to start seeing different priorities.