Editorial: Points to guide a budget deal

Published 9:16 am Thursday, May 12, 2011

Editor’s note: The Albert Lea Tribune offers editorials from other newspapers for readers to see alternate points of view. However, these do not represent the views of the Tribune Editorial Board.

Early-April optimism for Minnesota resolving its budget challenge is fast becoming mid-May pessimism due to leadership in the House and Senate. They have yet to combine their budget plans.

Remember, this is the same Republican-led Legislature this we praised April 3 for prompt passage of budget plans.

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There remain few signs of the next step — conference committees melding two plans into one to be sent to the governor. Here are general recommendations from us, St. Cloud Times Editorial Board, for solving the budget problem:

DFLers won’t like it, but Minnesota’s fiscal condition and historic budgeting tendencies demand reform. That starts with some harsh cuts to force state government to become more efficient.

For example, higher education faces cuts of $200 million, perhaps more. We support the lower amount and urge the state to step away from operating about 60 campuses statewide. Considering technology, tuition rates and the like, such a sprawling systems is just not feasible. Put the resources into campuses that serve the most students and are positioned to help future work force needs.

As for birth-to-12 education, it must accept that the $1.8 billion “shift” made last year is a cut.

Other cuts, again painful but necessary, include eliminating local government aid and some county aids; freezes on state payroll and benefits spending; across-the-board staffing cuts to all (yes, all) state agencies; and paring up to $1 billion from human services.

We can’t stress enough that with these cuts should come serious revisions and potentially repealing of mandates. Impacts also will need to be thoroughly reviewed in shaping the next budget plan.

Republicans won’t like it, but the state needs to increase revenues in the short term. We support these tax increases for only the next two fiscal years:

• Raise the income tax rate on the state’s upper-income earners so it’s the same percentage rate as that of middle-income Minnesotans.

• Apply sales tax to clothing, with a two-week August amnesty.

• Raise taxes on alcohol and tobacco products.

• Develop revenues from gaming.

Finally, there should be no reductions in taxes for the next two years. The state is in a financial mess for many reasons. All Minnesotans need to help clean it up.

These measures are mostly intended to force state government — and the politicians who lead it — to make tough choices, which, after two years of change, should put Minnesota on a more sustainable fiscal path.

— St. Cloud Times, May 8