Column: In this election, consider the state's budgetST. PAUL — If you ask Minnesotans how our state budget is faring, most people will tell you the truth: our budget is a mess, our schools are short-funded and property taxes are higher than ever.
By: Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, Worthington Daily Globe
ST. PAUL — If you ask Minnesotans how our state budget is faring, most people will tell you the truth: our budget is a mess, our schools are short-funded and property taxes are higher than ever. Republican state legislators running for re-election are the only Minnesotans telling a much different story. They tell us everything is fine; that Minnesota’s finances are doing better than ever.
Minnesotans know better.
Still, for the last several months, Republican lawmakers have been barnstorming the state boasting a bold, but false claim that they turned a $5 billion state budget deficit into a $1.2 billion surplus. In fact, there is no surplus. To make matters worse, state lawmakers left the next legislature with another huge deficit to clean up next year. The estimated size of that deficit ranges from $1.1 billion to as much as $4.5 billion when we take into account all of the dishonest shifts and gimmicks passed by the Republican legislature.
It is hard to keep a straight face and tell a local teacher that our state budget is doing better than ever. She knows the truth: in order to balance the budget, the legislature borrowed $2.4 billion from our schools. That multi-billion dollar IOU, on top of years of inadequate funding for our schools, has forced local school districts to cut programs, increase student fees, and take out loans to pay the bills. Rather than honestly solving our budget deficit, lawmakers borrowed billions from our students, taking money out of the classroom with no immediate plan to pay it back. Our schools, our teachers, and our students deserve better —but first, they deserve honesty from state leaders and a commitment to pay our schools back.
Minnesotans deserve to know the truth; that for the first time ever, their legislators used an unprecedented deficit borrowing scheme to put $640 million on the state’s credit card. Tobacco bond gimmicks used to balance the budget will cost our state $1.67 for every $1.00 we borrowed. This foregone revenue could have been invested in our schools, used to lower property taxes, or to improve public safety. Instead, legislators took the easy way out. That’s nothing to brag about.
And it’s hard to tell a struggling homeowner or a senior citizen on a fixed income that everything is fine when property taxes have nearly doubled over the last 10 years. More than $634 million in cuts to property tax relief, including the elimination of the Homestead Credit last session, contributed to the problem. Even if local governments don’t change their current spending by a single dime, these changes will push property taxes up by over 5 percent statewide, on average. It’s hard to claim a budget victory when middle class families and small businesses are stuck footing the bill with higher property taxes.
Minnesota college kids facing an average $29,000 in student loan debt aren’t buying the claims that this budget made their lives any better. More than $351 million in cuts to higher education, including MnSCU campuses and the University of Minnesota, sent tuition even higher this year.
But it must be even harder to convince disabled, elderly or low-income Minnesotans that the budget decisions made by this legislature were reasonable, fair, or compassionate. More than $954 million in deep, troubling cuts to essential services for the sick, poor and disabled is nothing to be proud of. The truth is that the most vulnerable among us are living every day with the hardest realities of this budget. Most Minnesotans would agree that we are better than that; and even when hard decisions have to be made, there is little to brag about when the least among us are forced to carry the heaviest burden.
In just two weeks, Minnesotans will vote to elect a new legislature. That legislature will be faced with the task of honestly tackling the next multi-billion dollar budget deficit and getting our state back to work. As voters make that choice, they deserve the truth about this budget and the impact it will have on their lives. But if Minnesotans can’t trust that their representatives are telling them the truth about what happened last session, how can we trust them to make the right decisions the next time around? It’s time for a fresh start and an honest approach to our state’s budget challenges.