Budget targets are set in Minn. House

Published 12:06 pm Saturday, March 19, 2011

Column: Capitol Conversations, by Rich Murray

The top priority for state lawmakers this session is finding a way towards eliminating Minnesota’s projected $5.1 billion budget deficit. To accomplish this task, Minnesota House leadership set preliminary budget targets recently. Though the process was difficult, the proposal does not raise taxes and forces government to live within its means.

A large portion of this deficit problem was caused by the acceptance of federal stimulus dollars last session, which allowed the previous legislature to incorporate a short-term deficit fix, but created a long-term funding dilemma.

Rich Murray

The House proposal cuts $3.6 billion in future spending while protecting K-12 classroom funding, nursing homes, the courts, veterans programs and core public safety services. Unlike Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget plan, the House proposal does not raise taxes, but does provide $300 million in tax relief to those who pay into the system. These tax reductions are targeted to provide middle class tax relief.

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There are obviously tough decisions made in this budget outline, but they had to be made. The goal of our proposal was to prioritize funding towards some of the most vital programs in state government, as well as to provide a safety net for our most vulnerable residents.

I’m most pleased that the plan focuses on reforming the way state government operates, which was one of my campaign goals. The outline includes proposals that will reduce the size and cost of state government, close unnecessary government operations, improve our revenue collection process, eliminate fraudulent Medicaid payments, consolidate legislative back-office and administrative functions, and reform welfare.

Crafting a budget is a process we have to go through, and in order to successfully move forward we have to fix things structurally. Government cannot continue to grow the way it has been growing, or the cycle of budget deficits will never end.

Now that House budget targets have been set, our committee chairs will begin crunching the numbers and attempt to meet the goal. But the priority remains to reform government and force it to spend no more than it collects, and I will keep you updated on the balanced budget proposal as things progress.

Keeping audits local

Based on discussions with our county administrators and feedback from others around the state, I am authoring legislation that would allow county audits to be performed by local certified public accountants rather than by the state auditor.

Removing this mandate would allow Mower and Freeborn counties to save some money by not having to pay for state auditor services, and would allow some area accountants to pick up additional business. To me, it’s just good common sense to give counties the option to employ local accountants to conduct their audits — so long as they adhere to state requirements — if they would find significant savings.

Constituent contact

One of the best parts of this job is meeting with area residents — folks I likely never would have crossed paths with or been able to fight for had I not been elected to serve as your voice at the Capitol.

Just this past weekend alone, I was able to meet with area corn and soybean growers, deer hunters, the Albert Lea City Council, Mower and Freeborn county employees, and the Albert Lea High School wrestling team, where I was able to congratulate athletes and coaches on their fourth-place finish at the state wrestling tournament.

If you or your organization happen to be in St. Paul and are visiting the State Capitol, by all means please stop by my office and say hello. And if your group ever wants an update on Capitol happenings or wants to give me feedback, please contact my office and I’d be happy to schedule a local meeting with you when I’m home in Albert Lea. It remains my honor to represent your interests in the Minnesota House.

Have a question or concern? Constituents in District 27A including communities in Freeborn and Mower counties can write to me at 439 State Office Building, 100 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155. Or call me at 651-296-8216 or e-mail me at rep.rich.murray@house.mn.

Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, is the state representative for House District 27A.