Nan Madden is the director of the Minnesota Budget Project at the MN Council of Nonprofits. Staff there have been busy tracking budget proposals at the legislature and figuring out just how these bills would impact Minnesota the communities the council of nonprofits serve. Here’s what she had to say about how deep budget cuts would impact Minnesota.
I’ve heard you advocate for a “balanced approach” to the state budget. Where do you see room for compromise at the legislature?
[Laughs] This is too big of a problem for an “either, or” solution. We’re going to have to do some things on the revenue side and some on the cutting side. There have been many states taking that approach. I think policy makers are starting to hear more from their communities-who are realizing that these aren’t just theoretical cuts but actual cuts that impact their lives-and these policy makers will see that these cuts are just too deep.
So if you had to raise revenue and cut spending, how would you do it?
Right now our system asks lower and middle classes to pay a larger share of their income to support public services than those with the highest incomes. We have an opportunity to modernize our tax system, and make it more fair with an income tax increase.
We know there are going to be cuts and that those will be painful. But we want to avoid cuts that are going to hurt the most vulnerable Minnesotans. We also need to invest in long-term economic success, so we need to be careful about making cuts to job training, to higher education.
But is it fair to say something’s gotta go?
We know that there will be cuts, but we don’t have a list of full recommendations.
How will some of the proposed budget cuts affect health and human services?
We’re really concerned about proposals in the health care area that takes us backwards. Some of the Republican proposals ask people to find health care in the private sector-a market we know is not doing a great job of providing affordable and comprehensive coverage to people with lower incomes. It also moves backwards on a 30-40 year trend of trying to see how people with disabilities and the elderly can live as independently as possible. These cuts are quite alarming.
You know, a lot of government services are actually provided in communities by nonprofits. At the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits we survey our members periodically to ask how things are going for them, and we’re getting reports that many nonprofits are seeing a greater need for their services but have fewer resources.
Nonprofits are really resilient, but they can’t make up for the size of the cuts that are getting batted around at the legislature right now. Tough economic times also tend to limit the range of funding sources for nonprofits. A lot of nonprofits are wondering how to use their networks with others non profits, and local governments and communities (who are also facing their own budget issues) to continue to provide quality services in the future. There’s also lots of questions about federal funding.
[Laughs.] It is definitely a big challenge. I think there’s a real question about whether the resources are going to continue to be there.
Where are you focusing your efforts for the remainder of the session?
We’re spending a lot of time documenting what the impact of cuts would be. I think it’s a different discussion when it’s not just, “Taxes? Yes or no? Government? Bigger or smaller?” Instead we can say, “do we want to have afterschool programs for children, do we want to have visiting nurse programs to make sure elderly folks are getting by?” When we put those real choices on the table, we can ask ourselves, “did we mean to cut meals on wheels, or is that worth spending a little bit more taxes to support?” We’re focusing on helping folks understand what services are at risk here.
Helping folks how?
We provide analysis through our blog and our website. We provide information to policy makers, and we’re part of a broad coalition called Invest in Minnesota, which makes the case that these cuts are too deep.
Invest In Minnesota is lobbying at the state legislature?
We are, but we’re also talking to people in their communities because it’s mostly a matter of what cuts they think are too much and what revenues they’d be willing to pay.