Today Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton and state legislative leaders go into an extended discussion seeking to avoid the looming government shutdown on July 1. The Republican legislative leaders caved on the format of the meetings. They are to include Democratic legislative leaders, even though Dayton had initially agreed to meet without them. It gives new meaning to my cage match metaphor.
All I can say is that for the sake of Republican leaders Kurt Zellers and Amy Koch, I hope the governor’s medications are properly titrated. Having found him unable to disagree agreeably over lunch on a social occasion back when he was completing his term as state auditor, I know he can be wild in a small group setting.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press published a useful guide to the issues between the parties. Here it is:
State revenue is projected to increase by $2.64 billion, more than 8 percent, from $30.66 billion in the current two-year budget period to $33.3 billion in the next biennium.
And here’s a simple fact to bear in mind as Minnesota’s budget showdown grinds toward a shutdown: All parties propose to spend more in the next two years than the state spent this biennium. The fight is over how much.
Gov. Mark Dayton wants to spend a good bit more and Republicans passed bills that would spend a little bit more, but in either case, it’s more.
The best apples-to-apples comparison of spending from the state’s general fund we’ve seen comes from the Minnesota Management and Budget office. Here are the numbers:
Projected spending, current biennium: $34.370 billion
Legislature’s proposal for next two years: $34.439 billion
Gov. Dayton’s proposal for the next two years: $35.8 billion
Bottom line: The Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills (almost all of which Dayton vetoed) that would spend $69 million more in 2012-13 than the state spent in 2010-11. Dayton wants to spend about $1.43 billion more.
Which of those numbers people think is preferable depends on where they sit. We just don’t want this simple fact to get lost in the rhetorical crossfire: Even the so-called “all-cuts” spending plan is nominally bigger than the one that preceded it.
We have been assured by state officials that these are good comparisons, in which the $2.3 billion in one-time federal stimulus money is included in the current biennium but not in the next. This means that Minnesota’s tax revenues are expected to grow enough during the next biennium to replace the federal funds. We take that growth in state revenue as good economic news.
Either side can use these numbers to justify its position, and both are.
Dayton and his supporters can argue that a status quo budget isn’t enough to keep up with inflating costs and rising needs. That means that in some fast-rising areas, such as health care, the immediate alternatives are to reduce services or limit enrollment.
Legislators and their supporters can argue that at current tax levels, the state has enough revenue to keep overall spending nearly constant, that long-term pressures require frugality now and that the state should live “within its means” as determined by the level of tax dollars coming in.
One side tends to see government in expansive terms, based on the perceived needs and demands for services. The other tends to see government in limited terms, bounded by the amount of money coming in. Reasonable people differ on which is the best approach. It is important to understand both perspectives, as well as the numbers that form the budget’s inevitable bottom line.
The Pioneer Press also gave Zellers and Koch the opportunity to make the Republican case in this op-ed column.
I have stayed fastened on the showdown in Minnesota because I think it replays in small the events occurring in Washington, with one difference. Minnesota has to adopt a balanced budget as a matter of law. Can Republicans stand their ground? They face the concerted opposition of the dominant news organization in the state, the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Lead political reporter Rachel Stassen-Berger has all but signed on for the duration as the governor’s public relations arm.
Readers seeking to fill in the story would be well served by checking the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Politics in Minnesota, Mitch Berg’s Shot in the Dark, Gary Gross’s Let Freedom Ring, and Brian Lambert’s twice-a-day media round-ups at MinnPost.com’s Daily Glean.
Minnesota Republicans have also set up this Facebook page, noted here by the Pioneer Press. We need help getting the word out.