To the Editor:
As a member of the Minnesota House Ways and Means Committee, the committee charged with handling our state's budget; I see the recent November budget forecast as a mixed bag. The positive news is that for the first time since 2001, a budget deficit isn't projected. Tax revenues were up, signaling that parts of our economy are beginning to improve. Additionally, money is now available for our public schools to receive the $701 million in payments that were delayed in 2003 to balance the budget. With increasing heating bills and other costs, schools will receive payments instead of IOUs. These payments leave the budget exactly balanced.
There are however, aspects of this forecast that are troubling. First, the forecast fails to take inflation into account. Anyone who has paid a heating bill or health insurance premium recently knows that costs are going up. Secondly, this forecast also leaves the legislature with very little opportunity to tackle emerging problems. Expensive energy costs coupled with large increases in local property taxes are putting a strain on individuals and local governments. State officials also said that for the first time in decades, Minnesota is lagging behind the rest of the nation in job creation.
The next session of the Legislature starts on March 1st. We will receive another forecast at the end of February to give us a clearer picture before going into session. While this forecast shows that our budget is encouraging, we must remain cautious. There are many issues of concern that we must address if Minnesota is to maintain a national leader in quality of life.
Rep. Lyndon Carlson