Long-term budget fix impossible with Pawlenty as governor
The Minnesota Legislature adjourned the 2010 session on May 17. Just 10 days before this adjournment deadline, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the governor’s 2009 unallotment actions were illegal. That decision tripled the size of the state’s budget deficit to $3 billion, adding a significant challenge to completing our work on time.
Despite this fact, we refused to play the blame game and, instead, rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We worked day and night for 10 days to produce a compromise, bipartisan solution to the budget crisis and ultimately adjourned after a brief, 10-hour special session to process the final deal.
The illegal budget cuts the governor made in 2009 — after session adjourned and without the advice of the Legislature — were very devastating. They included $300 million in cuts in state aids to cities and counties and a $1.7 billion delay in state funding to classrooms to temporarily fill the budget gap. Those are actions that have long-term consequences – cuts to Local Government Aid mean higher property taxes in the future, and delaying school payments with no mechanism to repay the money risks leaving schools without money to cover costs.
The Legislature’s preference was to find a different way to balance the budget that avoided enacting the most devastating unallotments. However, the governor vetoed our alternative budget solution with just days left in the legislative session. With very little time to reach a negotiated deal, the Legislature was forced to agree to enact all of the governor’s cuts as well as a few new measures to solve the entire $3 billion deficit. Had we not been willing to compromise, we would have seen deeper cuts to cities and counties, deeper cuts to hospitals, and we would have seen a cash shortage in the state that would have left us unable to pay our bills or meet our financial commitments.
Though our budget agreement is not a long-term solution or ideal, it is workable. Cities and counties already have budgeted for the cuts delivered last year so while they will be difficult to absorb, they have been planned for. The final budget also ensures our schools get paid back the money they are owed by the state – something the governor never accounted for in his budgets. The solution also avoids surcharges on hospitals and nursing homes, and it provides additional money to help rural hospitals participate in the revised General Assistance Medical Care program so they are not overburdened with costs.
Although the current $3 billion deficit is solved, this budget solution does not provide a long-term solution to the state’s fiscal problems. It became evident that achieving a long-term budget solution just wasn’t going to be possible with this governor, who has relied primarily on shifts and borrowing to balance every, single budget during his term. He has pushed the state’s problems into the future for eight years – something we will have to confront when we convene the 2011 legislative session, facing a $6 billion-plus budget deficit next January.
When we came into session in February, we told Minnesotans we’d focus on balancing the budget and growing jobs. At the end of this session, I’m proud to report we balanced a historic budget deficit, passed two jobs bills that will help grow our economy, and finished our work on-time.
Although session has adjourned, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions at email@example.com; 651-296-9248; or Room 317 State Capitol, St. Paul, MN, 55155.