On Monday, May 23, we concluded the 2011 legislative session, the time of adjournment mandated by our state’s constitution. But as you no doubt know, the legislature, led by the Republican majority party, was not successful in passing a balanced and fair budget agreement for the coming two years.
Our state continues to have a historic $5 billion budget deficit stemming from the Great Recession, massive tax cuts for the wealthiest, and disinvestment by Governor Pawlenty in core public services creating additional job loss and stymied economic growth. The state’s fiscal year ends June 30. Absent agreement and a balanced budget, state services deemed “non-essential” by the courts will cease on July 1.
Governor Dayton repeatedly asked legislative leaders to develop a three-pronged budget approach: cuts to state spending, reform and alignment of essential public services, and additional revenue, raised fairly, to support vital investments that help create jobs and put us on the path to economic recovery. He offered a budget that achieved these outcomes and twice, he made significant concessions to Republican demands. At the writing of this newsletter, Gov. Dayton has cut his original proposal for new revenue in half and increased his spending cuts by more than $1 billion. He has now met the Republicans halfway.
The Republican legislative leadership refused to negotiate and offered literally no movement of their own. Cloaked in campaign rhetoric, they told Minnesotans they proposed an all-cuts budget to solve the $5 billion deficit, but even that wasn’t true.
Instead, the GOP budget plan:
- Shifted expenses to the local level, causing at least a $1 billion statewide property tax increase
- Claimed savings from “reforms” that non-partisan fiscal analyses do not support and, therefore, cannot count toward the $5 billion deficit
- Delayed payments to schools (again)
- Raided money from special funds (a one-time band-aid)
In addition, their plan causes 140,000 Minnesotans to lose their healthcare, $250 million is slashed from services to the elderly and disabled, hospitals lose $900 million, $56.5 million is cut from special education, and higher education is decimated by the biggest cuts in history (fully one-fifth of the University of Minnesota’s budget disappears). General fund support for transit is reduced by 85%, dismantling any way people have to get to jobs, school, and medical appointments.
At least 30,000 people would lose their jobs directly from these cuts, mostly in the private health care industry. Untold thousands more will lose their jobs from the secondary effects of this budget. Minnesota’s halting economic recovery would be reversed.
Both of us voted against all of the devastating budget bills proposed by GOP lawmakers. Below are some of the reasons we found their proposal unacceptable:
Education: Early Childhood – 12th grade
- Significantly cuts funding for Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth schools
- Caps funding for special education with no mandate relief
- Does not contain early childhood initiatives supported on a bipartisan basis
- Eliminates teachers’ right to strike
Education: Higher Education
- Gives the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities the largest cut in state history
- Returns higher education funding to 1998 levels, though schools are serving tens of thousands more students
- Creates tuition caps, forcing schools to cut programs and services to students in order to meet budget constraints
- $5.1 million cut and $3.3 million tuition cap gap create an $8.4 million revenue gap at MCTC
Health and Human Services
- Adds more than 140,000 Minnesotans to the rolls of the uninsured
- Repeals cost-saving bipartisan reforms passed in 2008
- Half of $1.65 billion “savings” is unsubstantiated
- Eliminates Local Government Aid (LGA) to Minneapolis – funding that supports public safety, roads, snow plows – causing a dramatic property tax increase citywide.
- Reduces the Renters’ Refund by hundreds of dollars each year for every renter.
- Drastically cuts funding for victims of child sex abuse, services for battered women, services for sexual assault victims, community crime prevention, and gang and drug task forces
- Transfers funds from Fire Safety Account
- Continues the underfunding of Minnesota’s courts
- Requires counties to pay for last 60 days of prison terms – another attempt to pass costs onto the local level, causing property tax increases.
- Severely limits the Department of Human Rights’ ability to carry out its duties by slashing the agency’s budget 65%.
- Cuts $109 million from metro area transit
- Eliminates all appropriations for commuter and passenger rail activity from the General Fund
- Prohibits MN Department of Transportation from spending on intercity passenger rail
Jobs and Economic Development
- Cuts spending by 58%, compared to current spending
- Takes local property tax money from Iron Range long-range economic development fund
- Cuts training resources to laid-off workers, capital and consulting for businesses looking to expand and incentives for companies looking to startup in Minnesota
Environment and Energy
- Dept. of Natural Resources service reduction at upwards of 19 state parks, including “mothballing” up to seven
- Rolls back protections to water and natural resources
- Transfers constitutionally dedicated money from state lottery funds to backfill cuts in other areas of the budget
- Destroys collective bargaining agreements by imposing a salary freeze on state workers (something most public employees already have accepted, but through appropriate collective bargaining processes)
- Cuts the state workforce by 15% across the board, including snow-plow operators, Veterans Home nurses, prison guards and other essential employees.
- Imposes up to $8,000 a year in new health insurance costs on public employees, making insurance unaffordable for many families.
Governor Dayton vetoed all of the bills listed above, mostly because the bills did not balance the state budget, and because the draconian cuts included in the legislation would cause more long-term harm to the state.
So, what did the Republicans pass this year? They spent hours and hours debating and passing a constitutional amendment to bar marriage for same sex families. Not one family is helped, and many are seriously harmed by this divisive, distracting effort. They spent hours debating and passing a bill that would loosen the state’s gun laws significantly. They passed an election bill, A Voter ID voter suppression scheme designed to disenfranchise voters – particularly senior citizens and college students – across the state, and they spent hours passing politically-charged abortion bills that do nothing to help women or their children.
At the time of this writing, the Governor continues to reach out to Republicans to refocus on the budget and begin talking about ways to compromise. Though the regular session of the legislature is over, our work continues. Hopefully, we will soon be in a special session before state government is forced to shut down on July 1 for lack of action in setting the budget, raising the necessary revenue and appropriating the resources needed to keep our state moving forward. We will continue to oppose public funding for a new Vikings stadium and the use of gambling revenues to solve the state's budget deficit. In addition to addressing the budget, we will be advocating that the legislature pass pension reform for the city of Minneapolis which would result in significant property tax reductions.
Please continue to stay in touch with us, and everyone you know, on your views, priorities, ideas, hopes and aspirations for our state. The stakes could not be higher at this moment in our history.
State Senator Scott Dibble
State Representative Frank Hornstein