Other view: Not again: Is state sharpening its aid ax?
We find, as announced Wednesday in St. Paul, that Minnesota again faces a state budget shortfall. Revenues declined $1.2 billion from what was predicted in last February's state budget forecast. That's a $1.2 billion budget gap that needs to be m...
We find, as announced Wednesday in St. Paul, that Minnesota again faces a state budget shortfall. Revenues declined $1.2 billion from what was predicted in last February's state budget forecast. That's a $1.2 billion budget gap that needs to be made up by June 30.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Wednesday he wants to work with the Legislature to resolve the budget shortfall. But lawmakers don't convene until Feb. 4, so he asked for leaders to start committee hearings immediately "to craft budget reductions that could be enacted promptly at the beginning of the legislative session," as his statement read.
The governor already has set his parameters -- the $1.2 billion must come from cuts. "State government needs to live within its means. We must also take steps to make Minnesota more competitive for private-sector jobs, not just government jobs. That includes holding the line on taxes," he said.
Unfortunately, the Republican governor already is looking at a huge cash pot still remaining in state coffers -- state aids to local governments, which are paid twice a year. "Because of the timing of payments, the governor said it may be necessary to unallot a portion of December 2009 local government aid," read the statement.
Over the years, LGA to cities and County Program Aid have been looked upon by Gov. Pawlenty seemingly every time he has faced a budget shortfall. He unallotted $110 million from state aid to cities and counties from the December 2008 payments to help make up a $426 million shortfall. It meant the loss of $1.7 million to the city of Duluth and a
$2.1 million loss for St. Louis County. State aids took another $150 million hit this summer when the governor unallotted $2.7 billion to balance the current budget.
With $400 million set to go to cities and counties at the end of this month, Duluth, St. Louis County and other cities and counties in the state could see another hit.
The state's budget is not structurally balanced, and yet the governor again and again wants to push off the state's budget problem to local governments whose only resource is to raise property taxes or cut essential services. They've done both in the past, and the line in the sand has been drawn.
"It is outrageous that all signs are pointing to local communities being asked again to disproportionately bear the burden of balancing the state's budget," says Wadena Mayor Wayne Wolden, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities. Another cut comes at a bad time when local governments are finalizing 2010 budgets. As Wolden says, it means even higher property taxes and deeper cuts to police, fire and winter snowplowing.
What's worse is the $5.4 billion shortfall -- inflation not included -- facing the next state biennium.
Minnesota's cities and counties can't take another whacking from a state government that refuses to come to grips with its own responsible budgeting.
The Bemidji Pioneer, with local information from the News Tribune Opinion page