State economists shared an updated budget forecast with lawmakers this week, and the initial numbers are positive. Minnesota has collected $984 million more than expected over the past few months, meaning our previous projection of the state budget deficit of $6.2 billion has now fallen to $5.1 billion.
Why the change? The analysts tell us that Congress’ extension of the Bush tax cuts played a major role, as the certainty that taxes were not going to increase created consumer confidence, and Minnesota saw increased collections in capital gains, as well as income and sales taxes, as a result of that confidence.
But while Minnesota’s revenues collections are seeing slow growth, state spending continues its rapid expansion. The experts say that without government reform, program spending will jump 29 percent from this budget cycle to the next. This ridiculous amount of growth is not only unreasonable, but it is unrealistic.
Minnesota’s unemployment rates are at or near historic highs. We continue to see families and businesses struggling, being forced to live within their means. The taxpayers would be laughed at if they asked state government for a raise, yet government just assumes the taxpayers should give it billions more each budget cycle.
A complete economic recovery in Minnesota is far from certain if we do not structurally fix state government spending this year. The economists tell us global events could have a major impact on future state revenue collections. It makes sense; if folks are forced to spend nearly $4 for a gallon of gasoline when they’re struggling to make ends meet as it is, they will not be spending more money in the marketplace. If trends like this continue, there is a very real chance our state’s economy could be even further depressed.
Last session, Minnesota spent $30.5 billion on government programs, and Minnesotans have told lawmakers to get a handle on outrageous government spending. Though we now have positive news on the revenue front, there is no reason to spend it just as fast as we collected it. It’s time for Minnesota to be prudent with its finances and keep spending at its current level.