The past few weeks have been filled with late nights as multiple bills authored by the House majority moved through the legislative process arriving at their final destination for debate, the house floor. Budget bills passed by the Republican majority indicate substantial cuts to essential programs and services but also an increased financial burden on the middle class and significant job losses.
I have concern with the structure of the budget bills. This week Jim Schowalter, Commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget, and Myron Frans, Commissioner of the Department of Revenue, sent a letter to Republican leadership to express their concerns with the fiscal status of the budget bills passed. Minnesota Management and Budget and the Department of Revenue are non-partisan offices that the legislature has historically relied on to indicate fiscal impacts to the state. According to their analysis, the House budget bills are collectively out of balance by $1.2 billion dollars.
The budget bills passed result in severe cuts to education, workforce development, public safety, and transportation. Additionally, with 200,000 Minnesotans currently unemployed, these budget bills would cut upwards of 30,000 current jobs-jobs that many Minnesotans depend on to support themselves and their families.
Both sides of the aisle acknowledge that spending cuts are a necessary component of the overall budget solution. In the past few years, we have cut spending by $3 billion and Governor Dayton’s budget solution indicates more than $300 million in spending cuts over the next two years. However, we need to make sure the cuts are responsible and strategic to ensure we not further the financial strain on middle class Minnesotans.
Minnesota taxpayers can look forward to a $1.3 billion property tax increase over the next 4 years due to cuts in local government aid, reductions in the renter’s credit, and repeal of the Market Value Homestead Credit. The Tax budget bill would phase out local government aid to St. Paul by 2015. Cuts to the renter’s credit will mean 38,000 Minnesotans will no longer qualify for the credit, with those who still qualify receiving approximately half of what they currently receive.
Transportation is becoming an increasingly vital component for economic recovery and sustainability. Transit expansion will be necessary to provide a reliable means for Minnesotans to get to and from work. Cuts outlined in the Transportation budget bill would restrict transit access for seniors and the disabled, while increasing metro congestion for commuters. Investing in transit expansion is an investment in our future.
The Jobs and Economic Development budget is slashed by 52%, jeopardizing the availability of various programs that encourage small business innovation, support workforce development, and assist Minnesotans with regards to their housing. Programs that have already proven their ability to create and sustain jobs, like the Minnesota Investment Fund and BioBusiness Alliance, would be on the chopping block, as would workforce development programs like the Job Skills Partnership and a plethora of programs that provide job training and support for our young people. Additionally, programs that help keep Minnesotans from becoming homeless when faced with tough times, like the Housing Trust Fund, would also see a dramatic reduction in funding. A funding reduction for Jobs and Economic Development of this magnitude is a nonsensical budget “solution” when Minnesota is faced with hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans currently unemployed, many of whom are running out of their unemployment benefits.
We can all agree that it is essential for all children in Minnesota to have equal access to educational opportunities. However, a $22 million cut made in the K-12 Education budget will do little to equal the playing field, as the bill relies on shifting funds out of the twin cities, cutting special education, and defunding integration revenue. The bill also establishes a K-12 voucher program which will spend more money to send kids to private schools, resulting in less money for improving our public schools. I have yet to find any reforms in the bill that will actually improve our public education system, while ensuring that all students are well-equipped with the tools necessary for academic success.
Particularly devastating for our future generations and for the economic health of our state are the cuts to higher education. The Higher Education budget bill will deliver the largest cut to higher education in Minnesota’s history, returning funding to below 1998 levels. While the bill does include tuition caps, when coupled with the severe cuts, colleges and universities would have their hands tied, forcing them to take more drastic measures to offset the funding gaps. The University of Minnesota has indicated that possible options to mediate the gaps would be a 5% tuition increase and a reduction of almost 1000 faculty and staff positions.
With deep cuts to the Public Safety budget, the Department of Corrections will see changes in their ability to offer programs that reduce recidivism in our communities, like chemical dependency treatment and community supervision. Additionally, the bill requires all offenders to be sent to county jails to serve out the remaining 60 days of their sentence with counties expected to absorb the added costs. Those who work in county jails have said this is not only a financial burden to counties, but it also compromises safety. Furthermore, there are particularly painful cuts to battered women shelters and services for victims of child abuse, as well as crime prevention programs like youth intervention services.
The severe cuts reflected in these incomplete budget bills are devastating. They will impact the ability for many middle-class Minnesotans to remain financially stable, while restricting access to educational and employment opportunities that ensure economic prosperity, compromising the safety of our communities, and threatening the growth of innovation that has enriched our great state.
As always, I welcome your comments, questions, and feedback. You can reach me by phone at 651-296-3824, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can visit or send mail to my office, 255 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Saint Paul, Minnesota 55155.