You can’t turn a ship on a dime, but you can start to get it back on course


I sometimes think of the State of Minnesota as a ship that’s been heading in the wrong direction. We’ve spent the last few weeks reviewing elements of Governor Dayton’s proposed budget, which includes many ideas that will start to turn Minnesota around and get us back on the right course. His budget also reflects the reality that you can’t turn a ship on a dime.

Governor Dayton’s budget embraces many of the goals we’ve championed, including a fair and adequate tax system, sustainable budget decisions that end the cycle of deficits, and investments that will prepare Minnesota’s economy for the future:

Raise revenues fairly. At the Minnesota Budget Project, we have been calling for a balanced approach to addressing the state’s budget challenges for more than a decade. We are pleased that Governor Dayton has shown the leadership to take on the critical task of reforming our tax system, and that his tax package has the goals of increasing fairness in Minnesota’s tax system and putting Minnesota on firmer financial footing.

End the cycle of gimmicks. The Governor’s proposal balances the state’s budget without gimmicks, something we haven’t seen in a long time. There are no big shifts from other accounts, no directives for agencies to find magic savings, no delaying payments (or speeding them up), no tobacco bonds, no tapping our budget reserves. And Governor Dayton’s proposal balances the budget not only for FY 2014-15, but also for the FY 2016-17 biennium.

Invest in our future economic success. A number of important investments in the Governor’s budget will set up our economy for future growth where the benefits will be broadly shared. For example, his budget starts to turn the ship by investing in early childhood opportunities so children start off on the right foot, increasing funding for financial aid so more students can afford to go to college and start their careers free of crippling student loan debt, and improving access to affordable health insurance so people can get the care they need.

There is so much more to be done. Although there were many positives in the Governor’s proposal, some have noticed what is missing from the budget. After years of spending cuts, many were hoping that other critical services – like preventing homelessness, building affordable housing or helping low-income families build assets – would see investments that would help to address the very real needs Minnesota families are facing in a challenging economic time.

We know the Governor’s budget proposal is just round one in the budget discussions, and we’ll start to see the Legislature’s ideas emerging after the February Forecast is released. But one thing to keep in mind as the discussions go on: we must raise the amount of revenues raised in the Governor’s budget, or we will turn back to the old formula of deep spending cuts and gimmicks… and Minnesota will keep moving in the wrong direction with the same unfair tax system.