Viewpoint: Challenges mark 2009 legislative sessionAs we began the 2009 legislative session, we expected to face significant challenges. The worst recession in decades, near record unemployment and an unprecedented $6.4 billion budget shortfall made this session one of the most difficult in Minnesota history.
By: Marsha Swails, Viewpoint Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
As we began the 2009 legislative session, we expected to face significant challenges. The worst recession in decades, near record unemployment and an unprecedented $6.4 billion budget shortfall made this session one of the most difficult in Minnesota history.
For the most part, the Legislature and Gov. Pawlenty worked well together despite the tendency of some to focus on differences.
Important bills to reform government, preserve public safety and our natural resources, and maintain transportation infrastructure were signed into law, including a bill I authored that will vastly improve the quality of mental health care for children and adolescents. I’m also especially pleased the Governor shared my commitment to Minnesota students by signing the K-12 Finance bill with zero cuts.
The Legislature also sent responsible, fully-balanced budget proposals to the Governor. Our proposals were carefully crafted to meet the priorities of our citizens: protect K-12 and early childhood education, create valuable Minnesota jobs, and preserve essential health care and public safety services.
Thankfully, the governor signed the majority of the budget bills, subject to a few line-item vetoes.
However, despite great effort and significant areas of accord, we were unable to reach agreement with the Governor on a final budget plan.
Both sides agreed that significant cuts were needed (in fact, the House proposed more cuts than the Governor). Both also agreed that new revenue was needed to bridge the gap because cuts alone would cause too much long-lasting damage to our state.
The primary disagreement surrounded what kind of new revenue is the most responsible and fair. The governor proposed borrowing $1 billion in one-time money, and paying it back over 20 years at an additional cost of $800 million.
I’ve been dismayed by similar “borrow and spend” practices at the federal level and could not in good conscience support such a plan for Minnesota — and in fact nearly every Democrat and Republican in the Minnesota House agreed. I also could not support portions of the governor’s budget that were fundamentally unfair.
One proposal would have cut the renter’s tax credit by 20 percent. That provision would increase taxes on the average Minnesota renter by $130 per year.
In Washington County, nearly 30 percent of the people receiving that credit are senior citizens or people with disabilities.
In contrast, the Legislature’s plan to raise revenue would have cost high-income earners making over $300,000 per year just $9 per month (or 30 cents a day) for the next four years.
I believe it is fundamentally unfair to force a senior citizen on a fixed income to bear more pain in balancing the budget than someone making $300,000 or more per year.
By the same token, I believe any revenue we generate must be on-going, targeted and fair, and I voted against an early revenue-raising bill that I believed reached too deeply into many Minnesota families’ pockets.
Instead, I supported a modest and responsible pay-as you go plan because it was the right and fair thing to do for our citizens and our state, now and in the future.
Without agreement, the governor will use the process of unallotment to balance the remaining $2.7 billion budget gap.
Unallotment is a rarely used tool meant only for times of emergency when the state encounters an unanticipated deficit. It has only been used four times in the state’s history — two of those by Gov. Pawlenty.
He has already signaled his intention to focus largely on health and human services, and in fact, has already eliminated a program that provides funding for the state’s sickest and poorest citizens and the hospitals that care for them.
I am concerned additional cuts of millions or even billions more from this budget area could severely damage health care institutions statewide, result in more job losses, increase property taxes, and drive up health care costs for everyone.
In the weeks ahead, details of the governor’s unallotment plans will be released.
I’ll continue working with citizens and local officials to make sure we understand the nature of the proposed cuts, and to help minimize the impact on our community, our state and Minnesota’s one-of-a-kind quality of life.
Swails (DFL-Woodbury) represents District 56B in the Minnesota House. To contact her, call (651) 296-1147 or. e-mail email@example.com.