Dedicated fund better if pig barns allowed"It’s a mistake to set aside large amounts of state money for only one purpose. It’s especially bad to do this in the state constitution since it’s hard to undo this dedicate spending — which is, of course, the goal of those who push it."
By: Virgil Swing, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
As a geezer who must navigate Duluth’s hilly sidewalks each winter, I’m not a big fan of slippery slopes. But the Minnesota Legislature put us on one such slope earlier this year that I heartily endorse (I’ll get back to that analogy below but can tell you it involves pig barns).
Three years ago I argued against voter approval of a referendum to raise Minnesota’s sales tax by three-eighths of one percent, with the new money to go for environmental and arts/cultural programs.
It’s a mistake to set aside large amounts of state money for only one purpose. It’s especially bad to do this in the state constitution since it’s hard to undo this dedicate spending — which is, of course, the goal of those who push it.
Minnesota voters somehow ignored my intellectual plea and approved the tax hike. Millions have been spent in the last three years on designated programs.
Such dedicated spending suggests today’s legislators know better than those who’ll succeed them 50 years from now what state spending priorities should be then.
If environmental and arts/cultural projects are high priorities 50 years from now, lawmakers could shovel state money their way. But if nursing homes, low-income housing and the like are more important then, a big chunk of tax dollars will still go for environmental-arts programs.
The only saving grace is that, over time, such dedications tend to get squishy. In fact, you can expect that new pig barns, cattle corrals, etc. to show up at county fairgrounds in the Northland thanks to this squishiness.
One lawmaker, arguing against a 2011 legislative action to make county fairs eligible for dedicated cash, said this started the state down a slippery slope.
As I said earlier, slippery slopes and old folks like me are a bad match. But I like this one because the wider the dedication becomes the more state programs can be covered. That’s not a cure for the mistake of dedicated funding but mitigates the damage.
As legislators are wont to do, the 2011 ones said the $2.8 million set aside for fairs in the next two years should go to all 95 county fairs in the state. Yes, that is further dedication of already dedicated money and the amount to each fair won’t pay for a lot of new buildings, but it’s progress.
The University of Minnesota and other colleges that depend on tax dollars continue to complain about lacking money to do all they want to do. They valiantly raise tuition as much as they can every year to try to solve this problem.
I’ve suggested in earlier columns better ways to close this financial gap, but a recent spate of stories on teacher layoffs and hiring cutbacks suggests another way: Stop granting so many degrees with specific training for jobs that don’t exist.
Even if lawmakers and college administrators aren’t getting this word, some students are, with enrollment in teacher education down dramatically in many states. But that’s not an efficient way to make needed changes.
I recall perhaps 20 years ago when a Wisconsin legislator asked colleagues during a college financing discussion why the Wisconsin university system graduated thousands of young people each year trained for teaching jobs that didn’t exist in the state.
There was no good answer then, with the best one that the young people could always find jobs in the booming schools in Arizona and Nevada. Well, those states are booming no longer and teaching jobs are scarce there also.
Ten years ago a co-worker who had just graduated with a teaching degree told me that more than 50 others had joined her in applying for a social science opening in Duluth schools. I don’t know if she ever found a teaching job, but many others haven’t.
Teacher grads are not the only ones with training that doesn’t translate well to other jobs and for which employment is scarce or non-existent. Colleges can’t be totally efficient at matching grads with available jobs, but they can do a lot better. With colleges whining about making terrible sacrifices, doing what they’ve always done isn’t good enough.