GOVERNOR ISSUES PLAN TO BALANCE BUDGET
By State Rep. Dean Urdahl
Gov. Tim Pawlenty has made his proposals for unallotment. First, let me give some background on why it was done this way.
Basically, the majority in the Legislature passed bills that exceeded our available funding by $2.7 billion. I would have preferred that an agreement be reached through negotiations and the more conventional procedure, but a passable funding package did not materialize. Hence, the governor chose to cancel some spending and vetoed other spending provisions in bills.
The cuts came mainly from three areas: Local Government Aid, Health and Human Services, and a shift of money in Education from 2010 to 2011. Essentially, the state is being asked to make do with 96 percent of what it had last year. It is the first time in state history that our state budget will be smaller in the next biennium than it is today. As families are faced with budget cutbacks in a recession, it seems reasonable that the state should as well.
In District 18B, the cities of Cosmos, Kingston, South Haven, Eden Valley, Watkins, Grove City and Darwin will receive no LGA reductions. I’m glad that the governor listened to those of us who pleaded the case of our smaller towns.
Litchfield will lose $442,631 and has already made adjustments. Litchfield city officials have told me, “We’ll be fine with the cuts. We were prepared.”
Annandale ($153,644), Dassel ($95,352), Cokato ($159,954), and Howard Lake ($129,018) also received LGA reductions. Fortunately, two-thirds of the cuts come in the second year of the budget cycle. These cities have also prepared for the likelihood of these reductions. Meeker County lost around $500,000.
Many of their expenses are state mandated; some were trimmed, and I wish we could have done more. The DFL plan also included LGA cuts of about $100 million, in addition to a $2 billion tax increase.
The Health and Human Services budget will still increase, just not at the amount expected. There are cuts proposed of nearly $400 million to Government Assisted Medical Care. This is for disadvantaged adults without children. I supported efforts that would have restored GAMC by $315 million, but that was voted down. These cuts are for the second year of the budget so we still have time to address this in the next session.
I’m concerned about the impact on our hospitals. Thankfully, Gov. Pawlenty exempted inpatient hospital services from rate reductions. But I fear the cost of increased emergency room usage on hospitals.
Nursing homes were generally spared. However, we have been falling behind in long-term care funding for years, even when cuts are not made. Wage increases for nursing home employees have been small to non-existent.
Cuts were not made to K-12 education, but a $1.7 billion shift in funding was made. Some of the money that would have gone to schools in the first year of the biennium now will be shifted to schools in the second year. I realize that, in education and other areas, expenses may increase even when cuts are not made. But, in a crisis, this is what the governor chose to do.
State agency operating budgets were cut $33 million and higher education was reduced $100 million.
In a recession, hard decisions have to be made. We must create jobs by creating a climate that will welcome job creation. We must be responsible in how we spend the people’s money. Some of these cuts may be restored, but right now we must reprioritize, innovate, and seize the opportunity to do things better in the future.
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.