One graph that explains it all

It’s not always easy to explain the trends in the state budget and make it easily understandable.  As an absolute number, spending has been increasing in the state over the last decade.  Republicans play up that number — spending is out of control! — without providing the context.

What they don’t tell you is that the rate of spending hasn’t been increasing as fast as inflation and population growth — meaning that in fact, areas of state government are truly spending less today than they did before.  Overall, in fact, state government is spending nearly $900 per person less today than it did in 2002.  That’s why you’re seeing fewer government services AND higher property tax bills.

A graph of the trends in K-12 funding since 2003 (from Minnesota 2020) shows this rather clearly.

Inflation-adjusted per-pupil state spending on K-12 education has dropped 13.9% over the last eight years (the blue line on the graph).

The green line on the graph shows how local school districts have responded to the problem — by raising property tax levies to try to cover the shortfall.  In fact, local school district levies have increased 56.3% over that same time period.

The red line shows the net impact — in total, despite the local property tax increases, we’re spending 4% less per pupil today than we did in 2003.

This trend, sadly, is repeated all across our state government.  Cuts to higher education have led to tuition at our public colleges and universities that has doubled over the last decade (in absolute terms and increased by over 60% when adjusted for inflation).  Failure to fund transportation has caused our roads to decay and we’ve lagged the country in job growth, wage growth, and many other metrics.

Minnesota’s strong economic performance over the last three decades didn’t happen by accident.  We’re not guaranteed to stay there going forward.  We can’t assume that we can blithely cut away at the cornerstones of our success — education and infrastructure — and pretend that we’re not going feel the pain.  Republicans want us to abandon the principles that have made our state successful. 

We’ve spent the last decade playing the no new taxes/disinvestment game and the results are clear:  it hasn’t worked.

Let’s restore the principles that made our state so successful for so long.  That starts with a balanced solution to our current budget stalemate, including some new revenues to protect critical priorities.

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