To the editor-
The dust is settling from the 2009 legislative session which recently concluded. We are awaiting details of how Gov. Tim Pawlenty will balance our budget through a combination of vetoes and unallotment.
This was a session where our top priority was erasing a $6.4 billion budget deficit and we entered the final week of session with a gap of nearly $3 billion. The Legislature and Gov. Tim Pawlenty did not reach an agreement on how to close the hole, so Pawlenty announced, “Politics as usual is over,” and, to avoid an ever-unpopular special session, he will use a combination of vetoes and spending reductions to patch the hole.
A budget gap of $2.7 billion exists because the Legislature passed nearly $34 billion in spending bills, yet we only have approximately $31 billion in revenue. Some legislators wanted to increase taxes to fill the hole, but Pawlenty stuck to his long-standing commitment to not raising state taxes, especially during our recession. Veto override attempts were rejected.
Concern has been expressed over cuts to Local Government Aid. A number of local governments in our area rely on LGA payments to provide services deemed to be essential and the governor said he will spare from cuts areas with fewer than 1,000 people. We are awaiting details on what cuts will be made.
Another area at issue is Pawlenty’s elimination of funding for General Assistance Medical Care (a free program for poor adults without children). This cut is not scheduled to take place until 2011, so the Legislature still has next year’s session to consider restoring the program.
On a related note, there has been some misinformation regarding perceived “cuts” being made to Health and Human Services. The fact is, these cuts are not cuts at all, rather reduced increases. The forecasted base for HHS the next two years was nearly 20-percent above the last two years. The governor proposed a 10.9-percent increase. That’s less than 20 percent, but certainly not a cut.
The ultimate challenge this session was to provide enough funding for priorities like education, veterans and our most vulnerable citizens, while working within the realities of our current recession. K-12 education will remain flat over the next two years with some delayed payments; funding for veterans was upheld after the legislative minority blocked proposed cuts; and nursing home funding increases may be delayed, but no direct funding cuts were made.
There also was $71 million for flood relief and flood-prevention projects in the public works bill. It will primarily go to flood-damaged communities in the Red River Valley. This session was all about priorities and flood relief certainly falls into that category.
While the Legislature did not pass any major property tax proposals, some progress was made with restoring the Green Acres agricultural land program. Last year’s changes put many farmers in a tough spot, forcing them to consider selling their land or tilling it up to avoid absorbing tax increases many simply cannot afford. The full repeal many had hoped for did not pass, but some of the most damaging changes were fixed and work will continue to make further improvements.
Here’s a sampling of non-budget bills:
• Children up to 8 years old and 4-foot-9 tall will be required to use a booster seat in cars.
• Pawlenty vetoed a bill to legalize the medical use of marijuana.
• Mini trucks will be allowed on county roads.
• A proposal to require photo IDs at polls failed.
• The moratorium on building new nuclear facilities in Minnesota will not be lifted.
• A primary seat belt law is in effect, allowing officers to stop drivers solely on the basis of not being buckled.
• The length of time Minnesotans can receive unemployment benefits was extended.
As I’ve said before, the good news is there will be no special session, no government shutdown, the budget will be balanced and our state taxes will not be increased.