By Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City
We must take a multi-pronged approach to erasing the $5.2 billion budget shortfall recently forecast for Minnesota: limiting government spending, reorganization, prioritization and job creation.
The forecast shows a $426 million deficit for the current biennium (ending June 30) and a $4.8 billion deficit for the 2009-10 biennium. Those numbers indicate the state is spending $2 million more per day than it is generating. Government spending has grown by 140 percent since 1992, a trend that cannot continue. Expect government cuts and spending freezes to be hot topics.
The Legislature is going to face some tough choices when the 2009 session convenes in early January, but we can’t just adopt a bunker mentality and conserve our way out of a recession; reorganization also could help us get back on track. For example, we can explore the savings generated by turning prisons over to private companies. Studies show the current system costs the state $20-30 per day, per prisoner. I haven’t examined all the details to determine this proposal’s worth, but ideas like this could be helpful.
These lean times certainly call for fiscal responsibility and a real challenge will be in establishing spending priorities. Schools, local governments and our transportation system must remain atop the pecking order, but funding increases might not be available right now. Some really difficult decisions will need to be made when the rest of the funding pie is divided and your input always is appreciated.
We need to look at ways to provide relief from unfunded mandates on local governments and I have asked that a bill be drafted dealing with unfunded mandates and school districts.
Increasing state revenue would solve a lot of problems and the best way to do that is by creating new jobs. It’s been established that our business tax climate ranks low nationally. It’s time we take a humble approach to those figures and find meaningful solutions. Expanding business incentives – to at least compete with our neighboring states – would widen the tax base, providing the state with more funds with which to operate. Job creation must be a priority.
Above all, let’s remember this challenge provides us with an opportunity to make changes for a better Minnesota.