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MN Budget: Getting to “Apples to Apples” and Beyond

Minnesota Republicans have been talking a lot about their position on the state budget crisis lately.  It’s too bad that much of it is laced with distortions and comparisons that aren’t based in reality.

Frequently, you hear Republicans claim that last year’s state budget was $30 billion or $32 billion dollars.  That’s only partially true.  The state is projecting state revenues of $30.2 billion for the 2010-11 biennium — that’s the source of the “$30 billion” number. 

But that’s not all that’s included in the state budget.  Federal stimulus funding was used by the Legislature and then-Governor Pawlenty to fill holes in the budget.  On top of that, there was the K-12 payment shift that also saved money in the 2010-11 biennium.  Together, these items totaled over $4 billion.  So when you hear the $32 billion number cited, they are only counting one of those two items.

In fact, to get a true apples-to-apples comparison between the 2010-11 and 2012-13 budgets, you have to add the stimulus dollars and the shift dollars on top of the state revenue.  Why?  Because the federal stimulus dollars were not used to fund one-time projects — they were used to fund the ongoing operations of Minnesota state government.  We’re also not doing an additional K-12 shift in the 2012-13 biennium — school districts will receive payments per the normal schedule.

As such, the true 2010-11 budget is actually $34.5 billion.

Republicans don’t want to talk about this $34.5 billion number, because they are proposing a smaller budget — $34 billion — for 2012-13.  Poll after poll shows Minnesotans favor a blended approach of spending cuts and limited tax increases to solve the budget crisis. 

Republicans bristle when you point out that their budget is an “all-cuts” budget, but that’s exactly what it is.  While Gov. Dayton has been looking for compromise, Republicans have stubbornly stuck to their unpopular position.

Republicans would have you believe that $34 billion is a magic number.  Keep spending at that level, and everything will be OK.  They want to make the discussion about the numbers, ignoring the real-world impacts of what they propose.  Well, here’s a flavor of what in fact would happen:

At a time when our economy is still struggling, Republicans would undercut the state colleges and universities that provide the highly educated workforce that makes Minnesota a national leader.  Taking higher education funding back to 1999 levels is not how we stay competitive as a state.

At a time when labor markets are still working to recover, Republicans would cut more holes in the social safety net, kicking 138,000 people out of health care programs, slashing funding to Meals on Wheels, and refusing to pay for eyeglasses for people on MinnesotaCare.

Cuts to local governments would cause additional spikes in property taxes, as cities and counties would be forced to raise levies to make up for lost state funding — 4.3% on average.

Republicans have shown where their interests lie in this session:  property tax cuts for business, protecting the top 2% from paying their fair share of state and local taxes, making it harder for the elderly and college students to vote, and liability reform designed to make it harder for an average citizen to recover from a business that engages in fraudulent behavior.  Republicans are putting special interests and corporations ahead of the people.

These are not the policies that have made Minnesota great.  This is not the path we need to follow to move Minnesota forward.  It’s time for a balanced solution to our state budget.

UPDATE:  New polling released today shows that Minnesotans continue to show broad approval of Gov. Dayton’s budget proposal.

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