Governor Dayton and the Legislature have released a budget for public safety that increases funding by $17 million in FY 2012-13. The slight increase supports additional funding for prisons, public defenders and the courts, but the budget still includes cuts to services that will impact low-income families needing legal assistance, victims of crime and Minnesotans facing discrimination.
In May, the Legislature approved a bill that reduced general fund spending for public safety by $22 million in FY 2012-13, focusing cuts on services for some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations. The Governor took the opposite approach, proposing a $39 million increase for FY 2012-13.
The working agreement finds a middle ground between these positions.
There continues to be some cuts in services help vulnerable Minnesotans, although less than what was included in the Legislature’s budget. The working agreement:
- Reduces funding for Legal Aid and other programs that provide free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney to help resolve housing, credit, family matters and other civil issues. State funding for civil legal services has already fallen below 2006 levels. The working agreement cuts civil legal services by nearly $2 million in FY 2012-13, or seven percent, which is less than the $4 million cut approved by the Legislature.
- Reduces funding for Office of Justice programs by $3 million in FY 2012-13. This is significantly less than the $12 million in cuts approved by the Legislature, which reduced funding for battered women programs, crime prevention services, crime victim assistance and justice system improvements.
- Reduces funding for the Guardian ad Litem Board, which provides advocacy services for abused or neglected children, minor parents and incompetent adults in juvenile or family court cases. The working agreement cuts funding by $600,000 in FY 2012-13, or two percent, which is less than the $1.5 million cut approved by the Legislature.
- Reduces funding for the Department of Human Rights by $340,000 in FY 2012-13, or five percent, which is the significantly less than the 65 percent reduction approved by the Legislature. The agency works to end discrimination in Minnesota by investigating complaints, mediating disputes and educating the public about human rights issues.
These funding reductions allow for spending increases in other areas.
The largest increase – a net $21 million in FY 2012-13 – is for the Department of Corrections. The working agreement includes a $27 million increase for the Department of Corrections to make up for the loss of one-time federal economic recovery funds. This funding was included in both the Governor’s and Legislature’s original proposals. This increase, however, is offset slightly by $6 million in cuts. The working agreement adopts the Governor’s proposed cuts to community services and agency operations and some of the Legislature’s reform proposals (such as charging prisoners a $5 copayment for visiting a health care provider).
As both the Governor and Legislature originally proposed, the working agreement includes a slight increase in base funding for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the Trial Courts, the resources going towards inflationary increases in employee health insurance and pension contributions.
There is a $2.5 million increase, or two percent, in funding to help address a deficiency in public defenders, who represent low-income clients in criminal cases. Past budget cuts have taken a significant toll – in half the state’s counties, there no longer are sufficient attorneys on staff to represent clients at their first court appearances. This is less than the $6 million increase proposed by the Governor, but more than the $1.5 million increase approved by the Legislature.
The Legislature’s public safety budget also relied on $18 million in transfers from dedicated funds to help resolve the general fund deficit. The working agreement reduces the amount of one-time transfers to $8 million. The most significant decision was not to include a proposed $5 million transfer from the 911 account (collected from a phone bill tax to fund the emergency response system).