Budget includes Important Reform

Dear Friends & Neighbors,

We all can probably find areas of disagreement with our new state budget, but that is the nature of compromise. We needed to end this state shutdown and pass some key reforms that will put Minnesota on a more sustainable fiscal path.

We passed a package of 12 budget bills Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. The governor has signed each of them into law. Our General Fund budget will be $34 billion, more than I thought we should spend, but down from the $39 billion we were projected to spend. It also is more affordable than the $37 billion Gov. Mark Dayton proposed.

The health and human services bill probably is the best example of improvements we made through reform. This portion of our budget was set for a 22-percent spending increase, but we managed to draw that down to a more sustainable 4.8 percent; this will save taxpayers an estimated $10 billion over the next decade.

In addition to lowering the rate of spending growth, we also moved further in the direction of a patient-centered system so we can uphold our responsibility to provide assistance to those who need it most. The new budget also does not cut funding for nursing homes, boosts rural pharmacies and minimizes reductions to the disabled. We also are cracking down on welfare fraud to make sure money in this area is being put to the best use possible.

The new budget also implements new efficiencies like consolidating the Office of Enterprise Technology and establishing a Sunset Advisory Commission to audit the effectiveness of state agencies and retire obsolete practices. These important measures have the potential to save the state billions of dollars to make the most of our tax revenue while improving the efficiency of services the state delivers. In fact, the savings estimates we were forced to use are very conservative figures and our actual savings could be much greater.

Our budget also includes some one-time money from tobacco bonds and a K-12 funding shift. It is unfortunate we turned to these sources, but it proved necessary to break the stalemate in budget negotiations so we could end our state shutdown. We can be pleased our education budget will provide an additional $50 per pupil to the formula.

Our new budget also creates equity in the funding formula for school districts with less than 1,000 pupils; that is great news for schools in our area which have been shorted compared with the big cities. We also are implementing new accountability programs and relieving schools of costly mandates to provide budget flexibility.

This was a very difficult regular session and special session as we worked to put a budget in place despite very different fiscal philosophies. In the end, we prevented the governor from passing tax increases during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

We also have begun the long process of putting an end to decades of fiscal mismanagement on the part of our state government. Spending in Minnesota has grown by roughly 500 percent since 1960, per capita and adjusted for inflation and I am proud we stopped that runaway growth. We need much more government redesign/reform and I look forward to making even more strides in 2012.

I appreciate all the words of encouragement I received during the regular session and more recently during our budget work. I will remain in contact with local folks as we prepare for the 2012 session. For now, full details of all 12 special session bills can be found at: http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/ss2011/.