Take A Hard Look At The State Budget - 03/04/2009
This week state economic officials released the February Budget Forecast which will serve as the primary basis for the calculation of our state’s budget for the next two years. This forecast confirmed what has been known for some time now: our state will face a near historic budget gap between spending and revenues. The actual budget deficit will be a projected $6.3 billion. This staggering number is lessened slightly by factoring in nearly $1.8 billion of federal money coming to Minnesota as part of the latest round of stimulus packages coming from Washington.
While this "stimulus" money may seem to ease our burden slightly over the next two years, this money comes with significant strings attached. It is not yet fully clear what will be required, but in order to fully qualify for federal dollars the state will likely need to increase or maintain current levels spending in some areas. Indeed as many of you know this federal spending is a double-edged sword that may temporarily mask the critical problems in the way our state spends money. We must also remember that federal money (and deficit spending) is born from your taxes and any debts incurred now must be repaid for decades to come by our future generations.
However with this $4.5 billion crisis there is also an opportunity. As the legislature finally gets down to crafting and debating a state budget, I am committed to the idea that we should analyze every aspect of state spending. Every penny of tax dollars spent should be scrutinized. Every program evaluated. Every aspect of government needs to be prioritized. This will likely mean cuts in some programs. Whether you call it sacrifices or belt tightening, we as a state and as legislators need to realize the severity of our situation and embrace the opportunity to change, prioritize, and enhance how government uses your tax dollars. The choices faced by struggling families to make the sacrifices necessary to survive should also be faced by state government.
Our economy in Minnesota is following the national trend. Unemployment is rising, the stock market is stumbling, and the national economy is not responding to the efforts of Washington. This has increased the demand for government assistance to unemployed workers, their families, and others in need. There will be calls for tax increases along with cuts. I will oppose such efforts to increase taxes as I firmly believe that it is the wrong thing to do to further increase the burden of families already struggling to make ends meet.
This budget problem should be used as an opportunity to re-prioritize our spending to protect those most in need. I look forward to working with the Governor and Legislative leaders to openly discuss and work towards a budget that prioritizes what is most important to the state as a whole and solves our spending problem.