Minnesotans weigh in on budget


We asked for opinions — and we got them. To add your comments on the budget — just click on “comment” below or email the editor For detailed budget documents, visit the Minnesota Management and Budget web site.

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson
Senator John Marty
Representative Mindy Greiling
Senator Sandy Pappas
Senator Patricia Torres Ray
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
Russ Adams, executive director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
Susie Brown, Executive Director of Child Care Works
Jeff Bauer, Public Policy Director, Family & Children’s Service
Dave Dempsey from Conservation Minnesota
Sheila Smith, Executive Director, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts
Budget video from MN Stories
AFL-CIO: Budget “kicks struggling Minnesotans while they are down” – from Workday Minnesota
Governor proposes 2.2 percent budget cut from Session Daily

Press Release: Governor Tim Pawlenty on 2009 budget
[For detailed budget documents, visit the Minnesota Management and Budget web site.

Governor Tim Pawlenty today unveiled a balanced budget that “sets priorities for a better future.” The Governor’s plan focuses on strategic investments to spur job growth and improve K-12 education.

The Governor’s budget proposal for FY 2010-11 would spend $33.61 billion, a 2.2% reduction from current FY 2008-09 general fund expenditures of $34.36 billion.

The budget proposal erases a projected budget shortfall of $4.8 billion. Spending reductions and other savings total $2.5 billion while the use of federal stimulus funding and other resources provides $3.2 billion. New spending initiatives, tax cuts, and placing $250 million in the budget reserve totals $860 million.

“The upcoming budget debate should not just be about where we are now. It should be about where we’re headed,” Governor Pawlenty said. “That means looking forward, not back, and setting priorities that will deliver a better future. This is a plan that doesn’t increase tax burdens on struggling families and job providers, lives within our means, and positions Minnesota for growth.”

Highlights of Governor Pawlenty’s budget include:

• K-12 Education: The Governor’s plan includes $41.45 million in FY10-11 to expand the state’s nation-leading pay for performance program, Q Comp, to every school in the state. Q Comp funding would be comparable to a 5 percent increase in the general education formula for districts not currently in the program. The Governor also recommends $91 million in FY10-11 for “Pay for Progress,” a new initiative that links increases in education funding to student achievement.

• Minnesota Jobs Recovery Act: The Governor’s plan to retain and grow jobs in Minnesota includes a package of tax cuts and incentives. This includes reducing the business tax rate from 9.8 percent to 4.8 percent over six years, providing an upfront exemption of the sales tax for purchases of capital equipment, a new Reinvestment Tax Credit for small businesses that reinvest in assets such as machinery and equipment, and other incentives.

• Health and Human Services: The Governor’s plan slows down the rate of spending growth in these programs while preserving core services for children and the most vulnerable. Reforms will simplify the delivery and financing of safety net coverage.

• State/Local Reform: Governor Pawlenty is proposing a new collaboration between the state and counties to improve the delivery of human service programs. A portion of proposed county aid reductions can be recovered if counties comply with proposed service reforms. The Governor is also proposing to allow counties to opt-out of some mandates to provide flexibility without adding state costs.

• Improved State Services: To provide government services effectively, efficiently and conveniently, Governor Pawlenty is recommending improving state services. This includes an updated information technology platform that will enhance information access and transparency, and consolidation of data centers.

• Constitutional Amendment – Clean Water/Parks & Trails: Governor Pawlenty is recommending a $118 million package to protect and enhance water in Minnesota. These funds come from the new sales tax revenues authorized by the constitutional amendment passed in November. The package was developed by the Governor’s Clean Water Cabinet. The Governor also recommends a $53 million package for parks and trails from the constitutional amendment. For both clean water and parks and trails, funds are focused on strategic, long-term investments.

Full details of Governor Pawlenty’s budget plan are available at www.mmb.state.mn.us

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson on impact on judicial system
We appreciate the difficult task that the Governor faces in allocating too few state resources. However, cuts at this level will mean significant reductions in service and even further delays in processing civil and criminal cases. We have said repeatedly that adequate funding of the justice system is not an option, but an obligation of state government. We will continue our discussions with the Legislature and the Governor with the goal of protecting the rights and safety of all Minnesotans.

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Senator John Marty on impact on health care
Although it will take time to assess the details of the governor’s budget cuts, we know they are deep. The Department of Human Services estimates that 84,000 Minnesotans will lose their health care coverage.

These are not mere statistics, these are real people; real families trying to make decisions around the kitchen table. They are working people who will no longer be able to get mental health treatment for their daughter or afford the heart medication needed by the father.

Prior to these cuts, many Minnesotans were hurting. Their wages were not sufficient to afford housing, or healthcare, or food. These cuts will make the problem worse. We can dismiss the harm these cuts will cause, but the reality is that people die from a lack of access to health care. Others become too sick to work and lose their jobs. For people with disabilities or chronic health problems, this budget will sting. These cuts are not acceptable.

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Representative Mindy Greiling chair of the House K-12 Education Finance Division, on impact on K-12 education
It isn’t often that I find myself in the position of agreeing with the Governor, but in this case, we agree that education must be a top priority, if not the top priority, in any budget framework. But while we agree on the priority, our approaches differ. He uses the state’s credit card to delay payments to school districts. He attaches strings to funding that could ultimately worsen disparities that exist among Minnesota school districts – disparities in funding, in programs and curriculum, and in student achievement and opportunity.

The new money in the Pawlenty plan goes to districts where students are already doing well, while leaving struggling students out in the cold. While it’s important to recognize success, we also know that some students face greater barriers to success than others. Recent research by Kyla Wahlstrom from CAREI at the University of Minnesota on implementation of the Q-Comp pilot program actually showed that rewarding schools based only on student achievement results in inequities. The proposal to expand Q-Comp to every school district in the state will cost nearly $55 million per year, money that the New Minnesota Miracle bill would use to increase achievement for more students and narrow the opportunity gap that exists among districts.

Even in times of economic distress, students have only one chance for a great education. Clearly we must find a way to keep our public school students at the top of our priority list. Many economists – including our own state economist – tell us Minnesota future prosperity depends on the investments we make now in human capital.

Like any challenge worth its salt, the devil is in the details. The Governor’s budget taken in total also calls for cuts to health care programs that will leave an additional 113,000 adults without healthcare. With my mother in a nursing home and an adult son with schizophrenia, I’m fearful of the devastating effect those cuts will have on individuals, families, and Minnesota’s overall quality of life. We shouldn’t be forced into a “Sophie’s choice” that values some Minnesotans more than others.

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Senator Sandy Pappas on impact on higher education
The quality and quantity of our colleges and universities will determine our state’s future vitality. Yet parents and students are struggling: struggling to prepare for college; struggling to afford the tuition; struggling to pay off college debts. Although I know we are facing a huge financial problems as are most states, it is still difficult to see the Governor’s proposed cuts of $300 million to our higher education systems. Funding for our colleges and universities has been on a troubling downward trend for several years now. If this continues, we will soon ask our colleges and universities to rely more on tuition and fund raising to finance their operations than state funding for the first time in our history.

I hope that through the process of our legislative session, we can work with the Governor and his budget, as well as the people of Minnesota to find solutions to balance the budget without taking too much of a toll on our college students. A skilled and educated workforce is exactly what our state needs to work out of this recession. We need to do what we can to give every Minnesotan an opportunity to receive a quality education.

It is the people of Minnesota that will be feeling the fall out from the Governor’s proposal, and we need to hear their stories and opinions on what needs to be done. This session, we will use committee hearings, town hall meetings, feedback websites and one-on-one interaction with constituents to discover the priorities of the people of Minnesota. I encourage all Minnesotans to get involved in this debate. Our future depends on it.

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Senator Patricia Torres Ray (from press release)
Governor Pawlenty’s bare-bones budget proposals are fracturing Minnesota’s once healthy public infrastructure. His proposed cuts to local government aid and to health care; and his unrealistic tax reform proposals will only worsen the state’s economic situation.

Pawlenty proposes to transform the K-12 education funding system by linking minimally increased funding to improved performance. All of us support the idea of linking funding to performance. The catch here is that the Pawlenty administration will measure school performance based on school participation in a teacher training system designed by the administration called Q-Comp. The measure in his plan is not student academic performance, it is a district’s participation in the Q-Comp program.

The Pawlenty Administration proposes to reduce business taxes. Who will be the beneficiary of these cuts? Big business. Pawlenty’s tax cuts mean nothing original or innovative for small business. Small business earnings are often paid through the individual income tax. We don’t have evidence that tax cuts will spur economic growth. So why don’t we try something really innovative? Let’s allow small employers to join Minnesota Care. Small businesses across the state are laying off workers or closing their doors because of rising health care costs. Maybe the state should offer health care to all or some of their workers.

The Governor proposes to slash local government aid, which will lead to higher property taxes, slash public health care programs which means working Minnesotan’s who lose their jobs or can’t afford employer-sponsored insurance will have to solve their health care problems on their own.

We simply can’t allow the Governor to balance the budget on the backs of Minnesota’s most vulnerable citizens.

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St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (from press release)
This budget will take Minnesota in a direction that Minnesotans don’t want. Today, the governor proposed to cut LGA, but what he really did was cut police, fire, parks, and libraries across Minnesota. We are all eager to work together toward a solution to this challenge, but this proposal puts a disproportionate burden on communities that cannot afford it.
Cities are out of options. The governor’s latest round of cuts will have a direct effect in our ability to provide public safety, libraries, and parks. Cities with low property wealth or high needs are no less deserving of these services than other communities. For more than a generation, local government aid has been a critical tool in keeping our property taxes low and our economy growing. We need to act quickly to keep Minnesota cities moving forward.

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Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak (from press release)
It’s unfortunate that the State did not take a long-term approach to dealing with its major budget challenges back in 2003. This lack of serious financial planning means that main streets throughout Minnesota are again facing significant cuts from the State.

Unlike the State, Minneapolis City leaders have used disciplined financial management over the course of the last seven years. That puts Minneapolis in the best possible position to deal with economic uncertainty. We recognize that the current financial situation needs a shared sense of sacrifice, however it’s unfortunate for the taxpayers of Minneapolis that the Governor is looking to make the State’s lack of financial management another burden for our residents.

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Russ Adams, executive director of the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
Governor Pawlenty’s budget proposal this morning revealed how backwards his priorities are. When the only options laid before us are business tax cuts and reduction in vital programs, it appears the governor places more value on his years-old no-new-taxes pledge than on the immediate needs of the citizens he represents.

In times of crisis, our government must act with immediacy to protect all the people of this state. We can’t solve a problem this widespread by acting out of our individual self-interests. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that everyone can safely ride out this economic storm.

That means that cutting the state business tax must wait. Top economists admit that any potential benefit from that policy will be indirect at best and will not be realized until far off in the future. Further tax cuts will inevitably hamper local communities’ abilities to deal with essential issues like education, transit and housing.

This is a time for strategic government action. We should keep all revenue options on the table and should plan for investments that can help solve a number of our challenges at once. Wise public investments – like more transportation choices, green jobs programs and infrastructure improvements – can create new employment opportunities, stabilize our economy and create healthier communities.

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Susie Brown, Executive Director of Child Care Works
The child care system, particularly for low-income families, has been significantly damaged since 2003. Any recent gains in helping families afford care, and providers stay in business, is further hurt in the Governor’s proposal, which cuts provider rates and increases family copays. In today’s economy, all efforts should be made to: assist parents in their efforts to stay employed by providing assistance for child care; keep small businesses strong by supporting adequate reimbursement for services; and promote access and affordability of quality early learning opportunities for all of Minnesota’s children. The Governor’s budget proposal is harmful to all of those important strategies. Child Care WORKS is pleased to see that eligibility for child care assistance remains stable, but asks legislators to reject increased copays and reductions in provider reimbursement rates.

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Jeff Bauer, Public Policy Director, Family & Children’s Service
As predicted, Governor Pawlenty released today a proposed budget that shreds the safety net for Minnesota’s most vulnerable families and children and, at the same time, fails to address the flawed state tax structure that helped to fuel the current economic crisis.

Instead of working alongside the thousands of individuals and organizations that constitute the social bedrock of Minnesota – faith groups, nonprofit community organizations, school districts, labor unions, city and county service agencies – to hammer out an equitable solution involving both spending reductions and revenue increases, Governor Pawlenty has chosen to balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it.

Two areas of significant impact and immediate concern include:

• Cuts to the Minnesota Family Investment Program – While the Governor is using the term “revers[ing] prior expansions” instead of “cuts” to justify this group of budget proposals, their effect on low-income families in Minnesota is the same. Specifically, the Governor is proposing increased work requirements for MFIP participants to be approved for post-secondary educational programs at a time when unemployment is skyrocketing, decreased loan amounts for MFIP participants to obtain cars to get to any jobs or educational opportunities they might find, and increased percentages of MFIP participants’ rental subsidies counted as unearned income at the same time the foreclosure crisis is driving rents through the roof.

• Delays in funding of children’s mental health services – The Governor is recommending a delay in the expansion of the assertive community treatment model (ACT), a nationally-recognized evidence-based practice for adults with serious mental illness, to serve youth aged 16 and 17 in order to offset his other proposed cuts to the Department of Human Services. He is also proposing a delay in previously approved new coverage for children’s mental health residential treatment and non-residential intensive treatment alternatives.

The list of other budget-slashing targets is a long one, including the Child Care Assistance Program, Local Government Aid (which supports a host of services to low-income families and children), Community Alternatives for Disabled Individuals waivers, and Traumatic Brain Injury waivers.

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Dave Dempsey from Conservation Minnesota
The full potential of the voter-approved Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment to help protect our resources and create jobs isn’t tapped. The Governor recommends spending only about $171 million of $230 million available the next two years for clean water and parks and trails.

We’re concerned the general fund cuts may be hitting conservation agencies harder than others (63% in the case of MPCA) but we’re planning to dig deeper and ask more questions before making a judgment.

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Sheila Smith, Executive Director, Minnesota Citizens for the Arts (from press release)
Gov. Pawlenty today announced a nearly 50 percent cut to the arts as part of a package of budget changes intended to balance the state’s budget. A cut of this size would be devastating to an already reduced state arts budget. In 2003, the Governor proposed cutting 40% of arts funding, and we spent all that session fighting to reduce the cut to 32%. In subsequent sessions, we had managed to restore a small part of that funding. With this cut, the Governor is proposing to slash funding even lower than the arts had after losing a third of the funding in 2003. …

Another confusing angle in his budget recommendation is to turn the Minnesota State Arts Board, a state agency, into a “private non-profit,” showing no state dollars going to the board after 2011. …

In addition, while he shows revenue to the Amendment Arts and Culture Fund, he does not spend it. The Governor needs to explain how cutting this much funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils is NOT replacing one with the other. The Amendment says, “the dedicated money … must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.” It may be that his intention is to replace current General Fund spending on the arts with Amendment dollars, but the budget does not seem to show that, except that the Arts Board is the only entity listed on the spending side of the Arts and Culture Fund budget, and there are zeroes in that column. It doesn’t really make sense. We will continue to analyze the budget and get out more information as it becomes available. …

Governor’s budget proposal flies in the face of the clear message sent by voters in the passage of the Amendment: that we want MORE investment in the arts and culture, not less. To then additionally propose privatizing the State Arts Board is the opposite of the intent of voters. The state must spend the Amendment Arts and Culture fund on the arts and culture. The Minnesota State Arts Board and Regional Arts Councils, which make sure arts funding reaches all 87 counties through their grants and services, is a natural and accountable conduit for much of that funding.