This is “budget week” in the Minnesota House, as lawmakers have debated several omnibus finance proposals that will fund certain areas of government over the next two years. Once completed, all of these proposals will balance Minnesota’s budget and eliminate our projected $5.1 billion budget deficit.
An omnibus bill is a comprehensive plan that can contain many provisions along with a spending target for its funding area. This can create problems as often times you like some things in the bill but hate others, and you have to determine if the good outweighs the bad before casting a vote.
Let’s start with a good one. I was happy to help approve our House transportation proposal as it prioritizes improved road funding during these tight economic times.
Under this plan, state highway spending would increase by $120 million, and local road investments would increase by over $126 million. Greater Minnesota transit would also increase by $1 million.
To meet the budget target and force government to live within its means, the bill deletes general fund appropriations for Metro Area transit needs. Some minority House members wanted us to continue and expand funding for proposed Metro Area train projects. I’m pleased these pleas fell on deaf ears.
Minnesota already struggles to pay the operational costs for its existing light rail lines. The tax subsidy rates for the Hiawatha Rail and Northstar Commuter Rail lines are beyond ridiculous. Basically, if you never set foot on either train, you’re still paying half to more than 80 percent of the cost for someone who is. And that doesn’t even take into consideration the 100 percent public subsidy to develop the lines – but what’s a few billion dollars among friends, particularly when the state is $5 billion in the hole?
While I believe the transportation bill is fiscally prudent, the K-12 education bill is not. When you take our budget woes into account, addressing the deficit by increasing education funds by 3.6 percent over last biennium – and that amount is even greater if you don’t include the federal stimulus funds from the last budget – is simply irresponsible.
Again, the bill presents the classic risk/reward offer. I am strongly in favor of many of the reform positions in the bill, including state mandate relief, the removal of integration aid funding, teacher licensure evaluations, and school grading systems.
But the public has told us that Minnesota government must live within its means. During this time of economic uncertainty, our schools should not expect funding increases, nor should we offer them. Though it will be unpopular with some, my vote on the education bill was “no.”