By Rep. Dean Urdahl
Opinion polls, news stories and everyday conversations are missing a crucial point as we continue working to find a budget solution.
Most of the discussion seems to center on dollars and cents, or whether the top 2 percent of our earners are paying enough in taxes. Our focus should go far beyond these areas, identifying systemic reform that is necessary to fix our structural budget flaws.
We currently face a $5 billion shortfall and the governor proposes taxing our high earners to help close the budget gap. His proposal may balance the budget today, but it spends $2 billion more than we anticipate in revenue and does not plan for tomorrow. If we just throw more money at the problem, we are very likely to be facing another shortfall soon and then how many more workers will we tax?
A state shutdown could take place in July if we do not balance our budget by the end of June. The governor will call us to St. Paul when it appears a budget deal is imminent, but progress has been slow to this point.
It is disappointing we are even talking about a state shutdown because the Legislature already sent the governor a responsible plan, which balances the budget without raising taxes. Our proposal includes a modest increase in spending, yet remains under the threshold of the $34 billion the state anticipates to receive in General Fund revenue during the upcoming biennium. But the governor vetoed our budget package, sending us back to the drawing board.
There is a common misconception that our proposal is an “all-cuts” budget. The truth is, we propose a 6-percent increase over what we are spending in the current biennium. We are spending $32 billion in the General Fund this biennium and our proposal increases spending to $34 billion for the upcoming two-year cycle. That is not a cut, plain and simple.
A lot of folks believe we should be making actual budget cuts, but overhauling our government is a serious undertaking and it takes time to eliminate inefficient practices and reorganize. The proposal we sent the governor includes many key efficiencies, including the formation of a Sunset Commission to get rid of obsolete programs and departments, priorities-based budgeting, and leaving positions unfilled as they become vacant to shrink the state workforce.
I met with the governor’s staff last week to discuss the bill I authored to appropriate Legacy Fund money. It suffered death by filibuster on the final night of the recently concluded session. The staff I spoke with seemed to view the bill favorably, but may ask for some minor changes to ensure approval.
I am still optimistic we will find a budget breakthrough before the end of the month so we can avert a shutdown. It is my sincere hope our final plan is one that includes our measures of reform so we can put our state in a stronger position for the long haul.
Before we even think about asking taxpayers to contribute more, we need to ask ourselves if we are making the best-possible use of the dollars we already have. Unfortunately, the answer to the question is a resounding, “no.” At least the proposal we sent the governor gets us pointed in the right direction.