Lawmakers prepare for legislative session

Published 8:06 pm Saturday, December 27, 2008

As soon as we all finish celebrating the holidays, the Minnesota legislature will convene the 2009 legislative session. This year is a “budget year,” meaning lawmakers must create a 2010-2011 state budget by adjournment in May.

As we all know, the state and national economy are not performing well right now. Families have been seriously impacted by job losses and housing issues and the state of Minnesota hasn’t been spared, either. Revenues coming into the state are down significantly from what we predicted when we crafted the state’s 2008-2009 budget two years ago. Now, we are realizing a $426 million budget deficit just for the remaining fiscal year through June 30.

In order to solve that immediate deficit, the Governor “unalloted” last week. He has the authority, when the legislature is not in session, to claim unspent funds and eliminate some planned spending in order to balance the budget. He specifically targeted some state aid being sent to cities and counties, as well as some health care spending and higher education funds. It’s not an ideal situation — many cities and counties are going to need property tax increases or serious service reductions in order to deal with the wrench that now has been thrown into their budgets. However, I think we all realize that very tough decisions had to be made.

Email newsletter signup

My hope is that when the 2009 legislative session convenes on Jan. 6, we all can refocus and work on collaborative solutions to a much larger problem that lies ahead. The state is facing a $4.8 billion budget deficit through 2011, meaning serious spending reductions must be made if we are to continue providing quality services Minnesotans rely upon. The problem is, most programs like education, health care services and public safety already saw significant budget reductions during the 2003 session when the state also was facing a budget shortfall.

We all have seen the consequences of those cuts through higher property taxes, higher tuition, higher fees and fewer services. It’s a real fear that cutting funding for any of these areas by the amount needed will result in similar long-term consequences that will drag down the state of Minnesota. Cutting more money from our state’s colleges and universities, for example, will mean higher tuition that may prevent more of our children from receiving a higher education. That’s not a road we want to travel down, especially in an economy that is demanding we produce a highly skilled, prepared workforce that can grow jobs in this state and compete on the global level.

Job creation will be the key to emerging from this shortfall — and this economic climate — with all the tools we need to retain and improve Minnesota’s tradition of success in the future. We can’t create jobs through just budget cuts, or just new investments, or just reduced services in other areas. We will need a combination of innovative ideas to pull our state back to prosperity.

With that in mind, my Senate DFL caucus already has announced job creation and reform to be the top goals for the upcoming session. Looking at ways our government can reform the way it does business and provides services is probably the best way to save money in the near-term. It’s easy to look at this whole economic scenario with negativity, but I really am hopeful that hard times will force us to re-examine how we do things and improve upon our practices for the future.

With all the doom and gloom in the news, it’s easy to forget that we are in the midst of a holiday season and looking forward to a new year, full of new opportunities. May you and your families enjoy the season, and please remember to keep in touch if I can ever be of any service.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.