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Viewpoint: Opportunity lies before us in the no-spin zone

They say that you can't begin to fix something until you fully acknowledge the problem. Our state has -- we, collectively, have -- a problem, a big problem.

Last November, we learned we faced a monumental problem -- a forecasted 2010-2011 biennium deficit of $4.8 billion, which represented 13.6 percent of our general fund budget.

As required by law, the Governor then put forward an initial proposal for balancing it: roughly, $2 billion in cuts, $2 billion in borrowing and an estimated $1 billion in anticipated federal stimulus money.

The Legislature then received, and continues to receive, a lot of feedback from the public.

We continue to work on Minnesota's budget each and every day. Since the start of the session, our committees have held 127 hearings on the budget.

Thousands of Minnesotans have taken time to weigh in on the budget and offer solutions.

The overwhelming message from e-mails, letters, the legislative website and dozens of town hall meetings is fairness. People want to know that all of us will be asked to sacrifice in some way.

I wish November had been the end to our bad news. But the recession continues to get worse. It is expected that the state will lose another 120,000 jobs over the next year and that unemployment may rise to as high as 9.4 percent.

And even if the economy turns around in the second or third quarter of 2010, since we typically gain approximately 40,000 jobs a year in good years, it could take three or more years to restore the jobs lost in just this one year.

For the state, this means that the monumental problem we faced in November is now much worse.

Due to an even greater fall off in anticipated revenues, the $4.8 billion deficit has grown to $6.4 billion, the largest deficit in state history -- without federal money. No one will be unscathed by the cuts required to balance this budget.

And while the infusion of federal funds will dampen the pain a bit, for awhile, reducing the 2010-2011 gap to $4.5 billion, a multi-billion gap will continue to exist out into the future unless significant spending and/or revenue adjustments are made, and growth in health and human services spending is brought under control.

The initial reaction to such bad news from those on the extremes of political parties is ideologically driven sound bites, using tired, old phrases. What we need is pragmatic, evidenced-based solutions.

There exists what I like to call "no spin" zones (or at least "less spin" zones), where this dialogue- and research-based, reform-focused analysis occurs.

In the past two years, these have taken several forms, but all typically end up as a report full of good ideas to reform or end specific programs, or to reform entire areas like school financing, taxes, health care and even the legislative process around budgeting.

Experts from all sectors of our economy and our society have contributed to these efforts, over months and even years.

Recent examples of this include the Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force, the Legislative Commission on Budget Trends and the Governor's 21st Century Tax Reform Commission.

And during the interims between sessions, numerous bi-partisan, joint House and Senate work groups have met covering a range of specific issue and program areas.

In addition, excellent reports evaluating the effectiveness of programs are produced by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. Still other ideas emerge from efforts like that of the Association of Minnesota Counties, which recently issued a report called Minnesota Redesign.

A wealth of great recommendations for reform and costs savings is contained in these reports.

Legislators must step up, put aside any hardened, ideological positions they might harbor, and open their minds both to the work and wisdom underlying these recommendations and to the myriad of innovative ideas that have poured in from citizens all across our state.

The time for focusing on the bad news is over. We must step out of our comfort zones and boldly redesign our state for the 21st Century. A great opportunity lies before us.

Check out these links for more details, if desired:

n Fiscal Year 2010-11 Governor's Budget Recommendation (www.

n Governor's 21st Century Tax Reform Commission (www.taxes.

n State Budget Trends Study Commission final report to the Legislature on January 12, 2009 (

n Governor's Health Care Transformation Task Force (

n Association of Minnesota Counties Minnesota Redesign Report (www.mncounties. org/redesign.htm)

Bunn (DFL-Lake Elmo) represents District 56A in the Minnesota House of Representatives. She can be reached at (651) 296-4244, by mail at 521 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or via e-mail at