By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
The 2009 legislative session adjourned Monday without a balanced state budget, but things still might work out fine in the end.
We are bound by our state Constitution to balance the state’s budget and, as of late last week, it appeared as if it would take a dreaded special session to accomplish that task. There even was growing fear we might not find a solution by July 1, resulting in a painful state government shutdown. The “easy” way to avoid such repercussions would have been for hard-working Minnesotans to swallow significant tax increases.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Pawlenty made an announcement just days before our May 18 date of adjournment: He proclaimed there will be no special session and no government shutdown, even if the legislature failed to balance the budget. Pawlenty said he would take matters into his own hands, using vetoes and spending reductions to erase a $3 billion hole in our budget.
We have that gap because the Legislature's majority passed $34 billion in spending bills but we only have $31 billion in revenue. Legislative leaders proposed tax hikes as the main means for balancing our budget, but Pawlenty made it clear from Day 1 this session he would not authorize tax increases. He stood true to his word and the minority held together to deny all override attempts.
I would have preferred that an agreement be reached between legislative leaders and the governor. Now we will rely on Pawlenty to make judicious spending reductions while upholding support for our top priorities like K-12 education, public safety, veterans and nursing homes. One of the biggest areas of concern is in regard to Local Government Aid.
I have urged the governor to tread lightly while considering LGA cuts. A number of local cities, townships and counties rely on these aid payments from the state to provide local services so substantial cuts could be very harmful. Preliminary indications are Pawlenty will seek larger cuts in places like Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth in order to spare smaller towns in areas like ours.
On a related note, Litchfield’s administrators should be commended for anticipating LGA cuts and planning accordingly. The city is prepared to withstand a moderate reduction in payments, setting an example for local governments.
I hope the governor carefully reduces spending in a way that allows us all to bear some of the burden instead of deeply gouging a particular area or two. This was an extraordinarily tough legislative session for everyone involved as we faced a historic $6.4 billion deficit. These were some of the most difficult choices I’ve been faced with during my four terms in the House.
At least we know there will be no special session, no government shutdown, the budget will be balanced and our taxes will not be increased.
Dean Urdahl represents District 18B in the Minnesota House of Representatives. The district includes most of Meeker County and a portion of Wright County. This is Urdahl’s fourth term in the Legislature after being elected in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2008.