Last week, we reported that according to the latest Minnesota Management and Budget figures, Minnesota’s state government took in almost $900 million more than it spent in the last year.
As I noted, it’s not all good news, for quite a number of reasons. Some of the extra money came from the Feds. Some of it was borroewed from future tobacco settlement fund payments – a source that should not only not be a piggy bank to plunder, notwithstanding that it should not exist at all. And even if it was entirely due to the economy rebounding (and Minnesota’s is doing better than the national average, thanks in no small part to the GOP sweep last fall), the fact is that surpluses only mean that government is taking more from the economy than it needs; real surpluses should be rebated to the taxpayers – as in “people who pay taxes” – immediately. But that’s a nicety for better times, not to mention genuine surpluses. We’ll come back to that (no doubt after Obama and Dayton are bundled off to retirement).
A couple of the DFL legislators who caused the problem in the first place, Lyndon Carlson (the DFLer who first entered the Senate in 1928) and Dick Cohen, who inhabits a DFL sinecure in Highland Park, L were granted space in the Strib to pee in the GOP’s Whwaties:
We all breathed a sigh of relief when last week’s updated economic forecast showed a positive balance for the state in the current budget year. This was unexpected good news.
However, if we look at the budget by comparing both the “checking account” and the “credit card statement” — the way families and businesses do everyday — we’ll see our state’s structural budget problem is far from solved.
When a Republican talks about “structural budget problems”, you can be sure she’s talking things like “demand based budgeting – where every bureaucracy’s budget equals the previous budget, plus the bureacracy’s forecast, and inevitably self-serving, expected increase in delivering its service”.
When DFLers like Cohen and Carlson talk about “structural budget problems”, they mean “bureaucracies not getting what they demand, when they demand it”.
Keep that in mind as we continue.
Responding to the forecast, Republicans were quick to pat themselves on the back. House Speaker Kurt Zellers praised their “fiscal restraint” and Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch lauded how the state had “lived within its means.”
Both of which are both true and false; the state did get federal money, and did borrow against future Tobacco Shakedown proceeds.
Carlson and Cohen’s deceit lies in the details:
Most Minnesotans, looking at the numbers, would see it differently. Here’s a look at each side of the ledger. Judge for yourself:
Checking Balance: $876 million. The updated economic forecast shows Minnesota has a current “surplus” of $876 million. Like a household checking account, these are funds to cover expenses during the budget cycle we’re currently in.
But unlike most checking accounts, our state’s balance has not been completely generated through money that’s been saved up.
Of course not. The GOP, faced with an intransigent governor who is in office solely to serve the “Alliance For A Better Minnesota”, “Win Minnesota”, “Take Action Minnesota”, “Common Cause” and the unions, bent on the budget last session, spending a couple billion more than they should have,
Had we done it the way the conservatives said to do it, we’d have multibillion-dollar surplus and no borrowed money.
They’d also have been able to eliminate statements this:
Current Debt: $4.2 billion. Our state’s “credit card statement” reveals a lot of new red ink due to the budget Republicans passed after taking our state to a government shutdown. In the next budget cycle, Minnesotans will face a $1.3 billion budget deficit.
This has been a familiar story. In eight of 10 years, the state has faced a deficit. Instead of making permanent adjustments to our budget, we have used one-time dollars, accounting shifts, and borrowing. All this patchwork and duct tape hasn’t solved the problem.
This takes us back to the “structural budget problems”, above. The only deficit is in terms of current spending versus the bureaucracy’s projected future demands. To use Cohen and Carlson’s “family budget” example, it’s like giving your kid a $20/month cell phone plan and a $30 flip phone today, and having her tell you your bill is going to $250 plus $80 a month next year because, naturally, you’re getting them IPhones, whether you have the money to pay for it or not.
You know what you’d tell your daughter. It’s exactly what we, The People, need to tell Carlson and Cohen.
They do not have first dibs on what we earn. Our first and foremost job as citizens of Minnesota is not to keep the bureaucracy fat and happy, any more than it is to buy your kid and IPhone just because she wants one.
I was going to end it there – but I hyad to mention this one:
Part of the reason is that the budget passed by Republicans included record amounts of borrowing from our schools. We extended what’s called a “school shift” to a 40/60 level, which amounts to nearly $3 billion.
And Dayton’s plan had the same shift, if not bigger.
It’s an ongoing self-inflicted insult to the people of Plymouth and Saint Paul that these two people are not only in positions of power, but have no chance of ever getting defeated by anything but age.