FREE SPEECH ZONE | Belt-Tightening at the Expense of the Mentally Ill Increases Taxpayer Expenses

It’s a shocking fact that over 54% of homeless people in the Twin Cities have a mental illness. Helping them off the streets can be tough-but a pioneering program at People Incorporated Mental Health Services has been highly successful in working with this vulnerable population, moving scores of people out of the cold and into their own homes in just over two years. Unfortunately, this effective program, created in cooperation with the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry, is earmarked for elimination in Governor Pawlenty’s proposed budget.  Why? Not because they are ineffective, but because it’s easy to cut services to the most vulnerable and disenfranchised. Continue Reading

No Bachmann or Palin at this rally

Missed out on your chance to see former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin Wednesday in Minneapolis? Wondering what to do with your day? The Minnesota AFL-CIO has got you covered. The federation of trade unions is organizing a “Rally for Jobs and Tax Fairness” at noon in the State Capitol rotunda, two hours before U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., will be using the Minneapolis Convention Center to host a rally and fundraiser with Palin. The rally and a follow-up session of lobbying state lawmakers is part of the MN AFL-CIO’s Working Families Day at the Capitol and will feature National AFL-CIO Secretary/Treasurer Liz Shuler.U.S. Reps. Continue Reading

Supremes loom large in Legislature’s second half

If you watched the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature pass and Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty sign into law a mini-budget bill before taking a halftime break last week, you might think lawmakers in St. Paul are marching efficiently to close up a $1 billion state budget deficit so they can get out on the campaign trail and begin Election 2010 well before the May 17 adjornment date. But what if, suddenly, that state budget deficit ballooned to more than $3.5 billion? That’s one possible scenario, if the Minnesota Supreme Court decides Pawlenty’s budget unallotment move last year was unconstitutional. Justices on March 15 heard the case against Pawlenty’s unallotment move, which unilaterally cut $2.7 billion in state spending last year after the Legislature went home to balance the budget, after he vetoed the tax increase the DFL Legislature passed to pay for the spending. Continue Reading

Pawlenty among governors targeted by extremist group

Tim Pawlenty is among more than 30 governors who’ve received letters from a “sovereign citizens’ extremist group” identified by the FBI as the Guardians of the Free Republics urging him to resign within three days or be removed. Pawlenty confirmed he received the letter, but says he’s unconcerned.The group’s website outlines the thinking behind its aim to “restore Biblical law to a devoutly secular population.” It seeks to accomplish its goals “BEHIND THE SCENES, lawfully, peacefully, without violence and without risking civil war.” FBI officials have told governors they have no specific knowledge of plans to use violence but are cautioning police to be alert in case other individuals interpret the letters “as a justification for violence or other criminal actions.” Its members believe the group’s plan can act as a “vehicle for relieving corporate tyranny. Continue Reading

Minnesota close to needing payday loans

The State of Minnesota is starting to look more and more like a bad credit risk. If you need proof, take a look at HF 3741, Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to deal with a looming cash flow problem that could keep the state from paying its bills.Introduced last week, the bill allows the state to put off paying the University of Minnesota from the 21st to the 25th of every month, even as it requires large state sales tax generators to pay more of their estimated taxes earlier in the month and forces counties to pay state property taxes to the state a month earlier than current law mandates.These things are necessary, State Budget Director Jim Schowalter said, because the state currently has no cash reserves and payments could bring the state down to $0 in its general fund balance.That’s a situation people in business refer to as being “cash-poor,” but I’ve also heard it called being “dead-ass broke” around my neighborhood.The bill’s author is Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids, head of the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion as yet, but the bill has been fast-tracked through to the House Taxes Committee.Solberg said he doesn’t view the bill as a permanent solution to the state’s cash flow problems. But the other option would be for the state to take out short-term loans, which could negatively affect the state’s credit rating, he said. Continue Reading

DFL budget cuts hurt working poor, elderly, students, renters, disabled

As the DFLers in charge of the Minnesota Legislature return home for the Passover/Easter break, they may have some explaining to do to constituents about why the mini-budget bill they just sent to Gov. Tim Pawlenty hits the people they say they’re there to protect so hard. HF 1671 passed 76-55 in the Minnesota House of Representatives and 44-23 in the Minnesota Senate on Monday, and was presented to Pawlenty for his signature. The bill trims $312 million from a $1 billion deficit remaining in the state’s budget for the current cycle. Thanks to Minnesota Budget Bites, we have a better idea of how they do it, and it’s not a pretty picture for disadvantaged Minnesotans. For example, the bill makes the following cuts to traditionally DFL constituencies: * College students will no longer be eligible for financial aid if they go beyond eight semesters of study to earn their bachelor’s degree. Continue Reading

Obamacare to the rescue on GAMC, maybe

Last year, it was the federal stimulus bill that helped state lawmakers plug a $4.6 billion deficit for the 2010-2011 budget cycle, by increasing funding for education, health and welfare programs.
This year, DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Pawlenty are both counting on nearly $400 million in increased Medicaid funding to help plug an additional $1 billion hole in the state budget that has since opened up. Even with that, DFLers budget plans still left a big hole in the Health and Human Services budget that was going to have to be filled with painful cuts. Until Congress finally passed its health care reform bill, that is. As a result of that bill, Minnesota could receive up to $330 million in increased federal subsidies for its low- and moderate-income public health insurance programs, General Assistance Medical Care and MinnesotaCare, according to Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth. Huntley, who heads the House Health Care and Human Services Finance Division, told Minnesota Public Radio that the additional money will reduce the overall cuts that need to be made to the state’s Health and Human Services budget, from about $323 million to about $100 million. Continue Reading

What are tails?

As the Minnesota House of Representatives and Minnesota Senate take up budget bills that would trim about $312-314 million of the $1 billion deficit remaining in this current budget cycle, let’s look at the effect their bills, and what Gov. Tim Pawlenty had proposed in his budget, would have in future years.Both HF 1671 and SF 3223 deal with just about every part of state government except the two things that cost the most — K-12 education and Health and Human Services spending.And on a superficial level, the House, Senate and Pawlenty’s requests have some similarities.The House bill cuts $312 million in spending through June of 2011, when the next budget cycle begins. The Senate bill would cut $314 million from overall, while Pawlenty’s budget proposal cuts a bit more — about $464 million — largely through deeper cuts in state aid to cities and counties than the DFL-controlled Legislature is willing to allow.Where the lines start to diverge sharply, however, is in the “tails” of the budget bills: the proposed effect on future budgets that actions taken today would have.Pawlenty’s budget proposal envisions that his $464 million in proposed cuts, largely to the current higher education, economic development, state government and local government aid areas of the budget, would extend and expand through the 2012-2013 budget cycle, trimming almost $1.5 billion more from the state’s next budget.The House of Representatives, on the other hand, envisions that its $312 million in proposed cuts in this budget, largely to local government aid, higher education, ethanol subsidies, public safety and state government, would translate into $466 million more in cuts in the next two years.And the Senate bill’s $314 million in proposed cuts mainly to local government aid, higher education, public safety, state government and economic development would mean those areas would be cut $494 million more in the 2012-2013 budget.That’s part of the reason why the legal arguments about Pawlenty’s unallotment actions last year are intensifying. Pawlenty’s budget proposal assumes the Legislature ratifies his unallotment decisions, locking in more cuts in the following years. But DFL lawmakers reject Pawlenty’s unalottment authority and won’t accept that those cuts are set in stone.With the state’s February economic forecast predicting a state budget deficit of $5.7 billion for the 2012-2013 budget cycle — up $363 million from predictions last November despite improvements to the economy — it’s clear something’s got to give soon, either on taxes or on spending, or on both.It’s also clear that this year’s Legislature has shown little sign of trying to answer that bigger question so far. Continue Reading

House Democrats put their budget cards on the table

House DFLers on Wednesday showed the hand they say they’ll play to fix a $1 billion state budget deficit this spring.Per Minnesota Budget Bites, the House Finance Committee released targets for the remaining areas of the state government budget, including the big enchiladas of K-12 education, Health and Human Services spending and any tax changes.House DFL leaders plan to cut just $1 million from current K-12 spending, but anticipate making up $710 million worth of ground in Health and Human Services.The targets also call for cutting the deficit by $105 million through tax changes, notably cuts in state aid to cities and counties.This brings some clarity to the picture, since before now, House DFLers were only willing to outline $207 million in cuts to other areas of the state budget.Set by leadership, budget targets leave the work of deciding where to cut and where to spend to the finance divisions. But look close and you’ll see what House DFL leaders have in mind.The HHS cuts, for example, depend on $408 million in federal assistance that hasn’t yet been approved (something DFLers were quick to castigate Gov. Tim Pawlenty for doing in his budget proposal), and on $147 million in savings by passing the GAMC restructuring bill headed for a final vote this week.That leaves the Health Care and Human Services Finance Division to their own devices to find another $154 million in savings from the system. Will it come from cutting provider rates to nursing homes? Reducing public health insurance eligibility? Those are the biggest budget savings areas remaining.The Senate, meanwhile, has laid out its targets for everything except K-12 and Health and Human Services. Continue Reading

Asian-Pacific, African-American centers among Pawlenty bonding victims

Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s signing Sunday of a $1 billion bonding bill came at a price — he cut $319 million in state construction projects from the bill to show his “commitment to fiscal discipline and an attempt to prioritize important state projects.”For Twin Cities projects included in the bill, the news was mixed. Large requests for the arts and culture, including money for the Ordway, Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall and the Minnesota and Como zoos survived.But other, smaller cultural projects included in the bill for items such as an Asian-Pacific Cultural Center in St. Paul and an African-American History Museum and Culture Center in Minneapolis were killed.Pawlenty vetoed the largest single item in the bill for the Twin Cities, a $43.5 million allocation to the Metropolitan Council to improve transit in the Twin Cities, saying that the Legislature left him no choice but to veto the entire item instead of unspecified projects contained within it that he didn’t like.Also cut out of the bill by Pawlenty’s line-item veto pen:* $13 million for Minneapolis Community and Technical College to renovate instructional and support space.* $10.6 million for library and student services renovations for Hennepin Technical College in Eden Prairie and Brooklyn Park.* $6.5 million for an addition to the Arden Hills MnDOT training center.* $5.3 million to renovate and equip a fine arts classroom and lab building at Anoka Ramsey Community College in Coon Rapids.* $5 million for St. Paul to build and equip an Asian-Pacific Cultural Center.* $4 million for drainage and infrastructure on Minneapolis’ Granary Road.* $3 million for a regional fire training facility for Ramsey County in Maplewood.* $2 million for renovating the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, located next to the Walker Arts Center.* $1.1 million for St. Paul and Ramsey County to renovate the Phalen-Keller Regional Park.* $1 million for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to design an Olympic-class training center at the Theodore Wirth Regional Park.* $1 million for improvements at the Hoffman interlocking rail yard in St. Continue Reading