State budget solution must not harm poor, vulnerable

The following is a legislative update provided by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which advocates on behalf of the state’s bishops for public policies and programs that support the life and dignity of every human person.

Minnesota’s legislative session ended on May 23 without a state budget for fiscal years 2012-2013 that both the Legis­lature and the governor could agree to, which means that a special session will have to be scheduled to create new finance bills.

If our governor and legislators cannot reach agreement before July 1, Minnesota will go into government shutdown mode.

In 2009, our lawmakers faced a budget deficit that was largely offset by one-time federal stimulus funds and by a decision to delay payments to school districts.

The lack of extra federal funding this budget cycle combined with projected spending increases and the still-present school payment debt created a $5 billion deficit in this year’s forecast.

The forecast calls for $39 billion in spending (of which about $1.4 billion is the shifted school payment).

The Republican majority in the legislative branch wants to keep the state’s general fund expenditures limited to the forecasted $34 billion in revenues.

This approach will not keep the tax burden on Minnesotans static, however; local governments will have to raise property taxes in order to fund mandated programs.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, first recommended a $37 billion budget and then lowered that amount to $35.8 billion, recommending an income tax increase first for the top 5 percent and then for the top 2 percent of earners in Minnesota.

Various proposals

Both the Legislature and the governor propose delaying the school repayment. Some of the other funding proposals put forward by one or both sides include:

» Shifting thousands of Minnesotans off of state health care plans and into the private insurance market with vouchers to offset some of the cost of private insurance.

» Reducing funding for services such as child protection and child care assistance.

» Cutting monthly assistance for families on income support who have an adult receiving federal disability bene-fits.

» Eliminating General Assistance and other related programs for disabled and vulnerable adults and creating an option for counties to offer adult assistance, funded by a block grant totaling $20 million less than projected spending needs.

» Freezing or reducing spending and enrollment for certain disability and elderly assistance programs.

» Cutting the renters’ property tax refund.

In his column in the last issue of the The Catholic Spirit, Archbishop John Nienstedt wrote about the principles that should guide budget decisions: human life and dignity, priority for the poor, and the common good.

Archbishop Nienstedt also pointed out that “[t]hose of us who are able must be willing to make shared sacrifices, including the raising of adequate revenues to pay our bills . . . .” Speaking last month
about balancing the budget, Bishop Lee Piché said, “Our state budget is a moral document that reflects our priorities as a society. The basic needs of the poor and disabled should come first.”

Priorities, not politics

Throughout this legislative session, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, along with many other advocates, has been urging our lawmakers to put priorities, not politics, first.

Among those priorities should be health care programs that provide affordable coverage and protect life at all stages; adequate basic needs assistance for the most vulnerable Minnesotans, particularly the disabled and the elderly; and programs that effectively help lift individuals and families out of poverty.

Even as this article is being written, budget negotiations between the governor and legislative leaders are taking place.

Our lawmakers need to hear from you, their constituents, about which government services we think should be prioritized and which budget balancing approaches we want them to take as they work to find a solution.

You can take part in the budget making process by contacting your lawmakers today!

Katie Conlin is the MCC’s interim social concerns director.

Share this page to spread the word.
Share Tweet