By Rep. Bud Nornes
Gov. Mark Dayton issued his budget proposal this week. Most people focused on the overall numbers, but one part that is a bit under the radar has negative local impacts.
The governor proposes closing a valuable rehabilitation facility in Fergus Falls, along with one in Carlton. His plan would shrink other facilities in Brainerd, St. Peter and Willmar, reducing the state’s number of Community Addiction Recovery-Enterprise beds from 174 to 70.
These CARE treatment centers provide outpatient, partial hospitalization, residential short-term treatment, and residential long-term treatment care. The governor’s reduction not only impacts patients, but eliminates local jobs. There currently are around 50 employees at the Fergus Falls facility and it would be difficult for both those families and our community to replace those losses.
I have been in contact with the Department of Human Services and expressed my concern about reducing this program at a time we have a definite need for it. One hope is a private investor can step in and take control.
This really was an unexpected development and, while the governor’s proposal is not a final decision, discussions will continue and involve local officials to see if we can find a solution.
As for the governor’s budget in general, we are still sorting through the details. Those high-level numbers show he’s looking to spend $42 billion from the General Fund in 2016-17. That’s an increase of $3 billion over the current biennium and nearly a $10 billion rise from when Republicans and Dayton set a budget in 2011. It’s a bit alarming when you think about it like that.
There also would be $9 billion in new transportation taxes over the next decade. The big one is a 6.5-percent tax on wholesale gasoline, which would add 16 cents per gallon at today’s prices.
The governor’s budget emphasizes early childhood education at the expense of higher education, something that concerns me as chairman of the House Higher Education Committee. We have been looking for ways of not only freezing tuition rates, but lowering them. The key is to do it in a way you do not impact campuses. This comes with a price tag, but we are doing our best to look for ways of helping students.
I will let you know how these and other issues develop. Look for the House to come forward with a budget plan of its own after we receive the next complete economic forecast in February. That is when budget work really will get rolling.