Unallotment ruling coverage

Our scheduled topic was preempted this week as TruthToTell beat all other local media to the punch talking about the Minnesota State Supreme Court’s 4-3 decision nullifying Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s attempt to cut state spending using unallotment. The majority (Chief Justice Eric Magnuson with Justices Alan Page, Paul Anderson and Helen Meyer; dissenting were Justices G. Barry Anderson, Lorie Skjerven Gildea, and Christopher Dietzen) upheld the Ramsey County District Court in ruling that Pawlenty had, indeed, exceeded his authority in unalloting funds for programs he otherwise approved in the original budget, thus circumventing the Constitutionally guaranteed legislative budgeting process. [Supreme Court UPDATE: SInce this program aired, Gov. Pawlenty has chosen Lorie Skjerven Gildea as the next Chief Justice to succeed the retiring Eric Magnuson. Gildea, one of the dissenters in the above ruling, and her two dissenting colleagues were the only candidates under consideration for the new appointment. Pawlenty also appointed University of MN law professor, David Stras, about whom, Rep. Ryan Winkler wrote: “Pawlenty’s appointment of Mr. Stras is even worse (than that of Gildea). Continue Reading

The DFL budget solution: cuts, shifts and a little veto bait

DFL leaders in the Minnesota Legislature on Monday unveiled a budget deficit-erasing bill that gives Gov. Tim Pawlenty most of what he wanted, but will still probably get him to pick up his veto pen. 
HF 2037 from Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, is moving fast through both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate Monday, and could be on its way to Pawlenty’s desk by the time you read this. The bill would ratify most of the $2.7 billion in unallotment cuts Pawlenty made last year, including $1.75 billion in K-12 education payment shifts that will cost local school districts money, even though the Minnesota Supreme Court last week decided Pawlenty had gone beyond the law in making those cuts. Check the spreadsheet out here for the blow-by-blow accounting. Minnesota Budget Bites has an analysis here. That includes $100 million in cuts to higher education that will drive up tuition and put college out of reach for more Minnesotans, and $150 million in cuts to programs that serve the poorest, most disadvantaged Minnesotans. Continue Reading

Why the MN Legislature will fail to find a budget solution

Want a list of reasons why our elected leaders won’t solve the state’s budget deficit by May 17 like they were supposed to? Let’s count the ways in which they will fail:1) Tim Pawlenty is running for the Republican nomination for President, and he can’t sign any bill into law that includes new revenues to help the state out of its budget deficit.2) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to ratify all of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts unless every Republican in the Senate and House of Representatives votes for them, and they won’t because taking direct responsibility for those cuts would kill their chances in November.3) Republican lawmakers have every incentive to make the DFL leadership look like it can’t get anything done and no incentive to help fix the mess as they go into the November elections.4) DFL lawmakers won’t agree to a budget deal that doesn’t include new revenues because they’d have agreed to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable Minnesotans while leaving the wealthiest untouched. Incompatible with reason 1.5) $408 million in enhanced Medicaid matching funds won’t be approved at the federal level before the Legislature adjourns, yet the money is essential to any budget deal.6) Nobody really knows for sure how big the budget deficit is anymore, since the MN Supreme Court ruled Pawlenty’s unallotment actions did not follow the law. A best estimate from Minnesota Budget Bites is that there’s still $700 million to cover, if the Legislature agrees to ratify Pawlenty’s delayed payments to K-12 school districts, but it’s still not clear how much of his $2.7 billion got wiped out in the court decision.7) The House may be prepared to go along with that K-12 shift, but the DFL Senate under Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, shows no signs of agreeing to any of Pawlenty’s actions from last year. That shift represents $1.8 billion.8) House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, is the DFL Party’s endorsed candidate for governor, and won’t be able to reprise her past role as the sane, rational adult in the room when she and Pawlenty and Pogemiller meet to find an agreement. Continue Reading

Vikings stadium bill: Not dead yet

After a House committee voted 10-9 Wednesday against a proposed Vikings stadium finance bill, many are writing early obituaries for this latest public handout request.But let’s not be too hasty to dance on its grave yet, shall we?Take a closer look at what’s in the bill and you’ll see how stadium backers might still find enough carrots to get them to a majority before this is over.But first, let’s look at why the stadium bill is on life support.Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he won’t sign any bill with a tax increase in it. So portions of the bill, from Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, that raised money through a tax on sports jerseys and memorabilia, lodging taxes and rental car taxes had to go.But that effectively removes every location option for building a new $791 million stadium except for one — Minneapolis. The other funding provision in the bill would allow Minneapolis to divert local taxes already in place for its Convention Center to pay for the new stadium in 10 years, after the Convention Center debt is paid off.Problem is, Minneapolis isn’t too thrilled about giving up that revenue for the Convention Center, and doesn’t think it should have to pay all the public cost of a stadium that will be used by people from all over the state. City Council member Elizabeth Glidden said as much Wednesday in committee.So how to win over Minneapolis? How about letting the city throw some funds at the financially ailing Target Center? Continue Reading

Supremes tell Pawlenty to settle down, Legislature to step up

In a 4-3 ruling delivered Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court  essentially rejected $2.7 billion in unilateral spending cuts Gov. Tim Pawlenty made last year after he vetoed a tax bill that would have raised that amount at the end of the session.

Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, a Pawlenty appointee who’s retiring this June, along with Justices Alan Page, Paul Anderson and Helen Meyer, decided Pawlenty did not follow the law when it came to unalloting more than $5.3 million in approved spending for Minnesota’s Special Diet Program.

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Children, disabled, poor in DFL Legislature’s crosshairs again

Mental health services for children and adults, assistance for poor families, vulnerable adults, and home-based elderly adults would suffer the most from $154 million in cuts to a health and human services budget bill making its way through the Minnesota House of Representatives.HF 2614 from Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, received approval from the House Finance Committee and looks ready for a floor vote next week.And while lawmakers delayed or removed some painful cuts to nursing homes and hospitals, the bill cuts several services for disadvantaged Minnesotans in the coming year, according to Minnesota Budget Bites, including:* $22 million in cuts to mental health services for children and adults.* $10 million in cuts to grants to counties for serving vulnerable children and adults subject to abuse.* Cuts to the state’s welfare program that eliminate eligibility for families earning 110 percent of the federal poverty line and families that have a car worth more than $7,500. In addition, families living in subsidized housing would see their assistance cut $100 a month, and $4 million was cut from a job skills program for recipients.* Home-based disabled adults receiving Medicaid assistance would see their eligibility restricted in a plan similar to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget proposal.On the positive side, there are no more cuts to the General Assistance program for adults without children, the bill reverses unallotments for dental care, none of Pawlenty’s unallotment cuts are made permanent, and the bill anticipates adopting the early expansion of federal Medicaid programs in the federal health care reform bill.That last part would make recent cuts in General Assistance Medical Care unnecessary, but to make them happen, the state would have to match the federal money with dollars from the state’s Health Care Access fund, which would leave the fund with a $410 million deficit by 2013.A Senate bill, SF 2337 from Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, was introduced on Thursday. It would cut $114 million in services. Pawlenty’s budget proposal would cut $436 million.Everybody’s budgets count on $400 million in federal health care dollars that haven’t been approved by Congress yet and might not be by the Legislature’s May 17 adjornment deadline. Continue Reading

Minnesota’s no-win situation, illustrated

There’s an excellent reason why Minnesota lawmakers aren’t coming up with good ideas for balancing the state’s budget deficit, except for crossing their fingers and hoping the federal government bails them out (again). 
It’s because there aren’t any. OK. There are two good reasons. The other one is that this is an election year and all 201 legislators are up for election, except for those who are retiring or running for higher office. And nobody running for office wants to campaign on finding the least horrible solution to a no-win scenario that will bring pain to every doorstep. Continue Reading

Minnesota makes a Top 10 — for deficits

While Minnesota lawmakers twiddle thumbs for a while to see if the federal government will bail us out of our budget troubles or if the Minnesota Supreme Court will upset the whole apple cart, one statistic is worth remembering: the state government budget deficit equals $651 for every Minnesotan.That puts us in the top 10 for per capita budget deficits, along with such anemic company as New York, California, Massachusetts, Illinois and our neighbors to the east, Wisconsin.That little fact comes from a report titled “The State We’re In” from the Nonprofit Quarterly. Information on Minnesota for the report comes from the Minnesota Budget Project, which has done an admirable job of keeping track of Minnesota’s budget predicament.While we’re not quite in California’s league — their per capita state budget deficit is $922 — and Connecticut weighs in at an astonishing $1,717 in deficit per person — our Dakotan neighbors to the west have $0 in state deficit (North Dakota) and $40 per capita in state deficit (South Dakota). Wisconsin has just slightly less of a deficit per capita to fix at $569 per person.However, Wisconsin makes a list from the Pew Center for the States of 10 states in the most fiscal peril around the country. Beyond California says Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois in the Midwest, Florida, New Jersey and Rhode Island on the East Coast, and Arizona, Nevada, California and Oregon in the West are in the worst trouble.Those states all scored 22 or more out of 30 on a list of troubling indicators including deficits, dropping revenue, rising unemployment, foreclosure rates and more. Minnesota falls in the middle of the pack, with a score of 15.  Continue Reading

Layoffs loom for U of M, MNSCU faculty

With the ink barely dry on the latest round of cuts to higher education funding, the state’s public colleges and universities are already bracing for more cuts next year. 
Officials from the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system discussed their 2012-13 biennial budget plans with members of the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division. No action was taken. Laura King, MnSCU vice chancellor and chief financial officer, said schools within the system are being asked to plan for a $100 million cut to MnSCU’s state funding base in the next biennium. She said the number is based on MnSCU’s possible share of a projected $5.8 billion state budget deficit for those years. “That would be a spectacularly damaging number,” King said. Continue Reading