A proposal to require a legislative supermajority in Minnesota is entirely appropriate.
By Walter Hudson
There are a couple of fascinating rhetorical trends in our political discourse today. Politicos and pundits of various stripes now routinely accuse fiscal conservatives and the Tea Party of political violence.
Opposition to raising the nation’s debt ceiling was characterized as “hostage-taking.” Refusing to bow to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s demand for tax increases was a kind of “terrorism.”
Entwined with such assaults, many have urged the need for government to “function” or “work” for the people.
The sum of these sentiments is the assertion that fiscal conservatives hold back a benign government from doing its job.
It would require a 60 percent legislative supermajority to raise taxes. How could our state function under such a requirement? Perhaps we should first consider: What is government’s proper function?
Majority rule is a process, not a purpose. It is a means, not an end. If the function of government is to provide 51 percent of the people with whatever they want, then the remaining 49 percent are bound to the majority’s whim.
There’s a word for government by whim. It’s called tyranny. It matters not whether it is a tyranny of a majority or a tyranny of one. Either way, it is anathema to our true governing principle — individual rights.
Too often in our political discourse, the nature of taxation — force — is downplayed or completely ignored. Taxation is the seizure of wealth. Yet efforts to restrain taxation are frequently regarded as hostile, as if wealth belongs to the state by right and individual property claims are some mystic chicanery.
Following the governor’s veto of a bill to restore $170 million in funding to the essentially defunct General Assistance Medical Care program, Democrats in the Senate voted to override. No Republicans joined in the vote.
The override attempt in the House was not successful. A 2/3 vote in the House was needed, which would have required 3 Republicans to vote for the override. None did so. The effort failed by a party-line vote of 86-47.
GAMC funding is slated to run out in April, when the governor plans to move all enrollees to the less generous Minnesota Care program. Minnesota Care is more similar to the traditional private health care plans most Minnesotans utilize and costs the state’s taxpayers far less per enrollee.
GAMC directly paid for 100% of all medical and dental care for the enrollee with unlimited coverage. The cost of the program has been skyrocketing, growing by 36% annually and it was clearly unsustainable.
The governor did the right thing for the state of Minnesota by vetoing the attempt to resurrect the bankrupt program. To be sure, beneficiaries of the extraordinarily generous program will protest the loss of their entitlement, but the approximately 30,000 enrollees aren’t being left high and dry by any stretch. Minnesota Care will provide them the same level of insurance coverage any privately insured worker has access to.
The demise of GAMC will mean one less bureaucracy for the state to maintain, and save the state money in direct payments and administration. Three additional medical assistance programs still remain. One could hope that they will eventually all be merged into one cost-effective program for even greater efficiency later.
The most pressing matter before the state legislature this year is closing a budget shortfall of over $4 billion, but that doesn’t seem to be the priority. Instead of reigning in spending, many legislators want to whip out the state’s credit card, but it’s already maxed out. Debt service topped 3% of the general fund budget for the first time in over 30 years last year.
After just one week in session, the Senate has already passed a $1.2 billion bonding bill. Next stop: The state House of Representatives – possibly as soon as Monday.
Economic Reality Check
Current budget deficit: over $4 billion
Current state debt load: $7 billion
Service on the current debt: $452 million per year (4% of the budget)
New and upgraded exhibits at the Minnesota Zoo – $21 million
New trails, paving and connecting existing trails – over $31 million
A new volleyball court in Rochester – $5 million
A new women’s hockey center in Blaine – $1 million
Four new ice rinks in Big Lake, Cokato, Fergus falls and New Hope – $2 million
Regional amateur sports facilities in Marshall and Moorhead – $5 million
Campground expansion in Two Harbors $1 million
Do we really need to spend money on these amenities during an economic recession? Are new jogging and ATV trails a high priority when the state budget is in the red by billions of dollars and when 10% or more of the workforce can’t find employment?
They’re spending our money. They have an obligation to do so prudently.
Governor Tim Pawlenty announced his unallotment plan at a press conference on Tuesday. The process of unallotment is in the governor’s power when the state’s budget is out of balance and the legislature is not in session.
The governor’s unallotment plan doesn’t require legislative approval, but he has weighed the budget cuts most heavily to the 2011 side of the next biennium to give the legislature an opportunity next session to provide their input and take another shot at balancing the budget. Most affected agencies will also have extra time to adjust for the pending reductions in their expected budgets.
Although the governor’s plan didn’t go nearly as far as the budget solution policy brief, “Real State Budget Reform,” the public input gathered and assembled by the Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition has clearly made an impression.
The Coalition recommended $146 million in Higher education cuts in targeted areas of the MNSCU and U of M budgets. We suggested pay cuts for top-paid staff, employee wage freezes and closing MNSCU campuses with very low enrollment. The unallotment process can’t be that specific, but the governor unalloted $100 million from higher education budgets, split evenly between the U and state colleges. It will be up to the Higher education boards to decide where to make the specific cuts, but it’s likely they will reach some of the same conclusions.
We recommended $595 million in spending reductions in the area of property tax aids and credits. The governor’s plan cuts $535.4 million and takes a more moderate road to get there. Where we suggested replacing capital equipment refunds with an up-front exemption (something that couldn’t be accomplished by unallotment), the governor instead realized the same savings (temporarily) by delaying the refund payments up to three months.
The coalition also advocated for a change in renters’ tax refund calculations to more accurately reflect the actual property taxes paid by the renter. We concluded that this would save $60 million. The governor’s staff concluded that the formula change would accommodate unalloting $50.8 million. We advocated an end to the Political Contribution Refund (PCR) program for biennial savings of $12.5 million. The governor essentially accomplished this for one cycle by unalloting $10.4 million from the program’s budget through June of 2011.
The governor didn’t tackle any of the bolder health and human services initiatives advocated by the Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition, opting instead to play around the edges with micro cuts in several areas of the HHS budget and rely on over a billion in federal money to shore up failing budgets. $236 million will be unallotted across various HHS programs. A far cry from our recommendations which totaled over $4 billion in cuts, but which would mostly have required legislative action to implement.
The governor was also reticent to dig in to the K-12 education budget mess, instead relying on accounting shifts of $1.71 billion, essentially delaying some payments for short-term budget relief.
In all, the governor’s unallotment plan will save the state of Minnesota $2.6 billion in the 2010-2011 biennium.
Critics will argue that the governor’s strict adherence to “no new taxes” will force counties to drive up property taxes to compensate for lost transfers, which is a fallacy on at least two levels. First, the counties aren’t responsible for most of the departments that have been cut. Local aid cuts across the state account for only $535 million of the governor’s cuts – a far cry from the whole package of $2.6 billion that would have had to be raised in new taxes. Even if the counties were allowed to raise taxes enough to fully compensate for (temporarily) lost state assistance, the governor will still have prevented $2.06 billion in new taxes. Second, there is no reason that while families, businesses and state government are tightening their belts we shouldn’t expect county governments to do the same.
We have succeeded in preventing higher state taxes. For the first time in Minnesota’s history, the state government will spend less money in the next biennium than in the present. Now we must turn our attention to our local governments and hold our officials’ feet to the fire to ensure that they don’t see these hard financial times as a golden excuse to raise our taxes in perpetuity exponentially bloating future budgets when things start to turn around. It’s time for local governments to reevaluate priorities. For example, St. Paul has threatened to cut police and fire services in order to build a new ice hockey rink downtown. “Nice to have” frivolities can wait for a boom year. Right now we’re bust and we all have to put essentials first.
The Jason Lewis Tax Cut Rally takes place at the State Capitol today from 11:00 to 4:00. Free copies of the Budget Solution proposal created by the Budget Solutions Coalition will be available at the rally.
Most coalition member organizations will have a presence at this free, family-friendly event. Food and beverages will be available, as well as activities like the Freedom Shrine ehxibit, a tour of Capitol memorials and a great line up of speakers in two programs. See TaxCutRally.com for more details and parking information.
Racing in on the heels of last year’s $11 billion in state tax hikes, another $2 billion in new taxes were proposed yesterday by DFLers in the state House of Representatives. Not to be outdone, DFLers in the Senate unveiled their even-bigger tax-raising plan this morning.
Democrats in the House have proposed a package of tax hikes and changes in the state’s tax system they term “structural reform.” By reform, they mean some people should pay more, not that the budget itself is being reformed.
In either plan, a big part of the money will come from an income tax hike. A new top tax rate of 9% – 9.25% for people earning $169,000 a year or more, or – under the Senate plan – $250,000 for married joint-filers will be created. This is anticipated to raise $467 million in new tax revenue.
In the House plan, another $1.5 billion will come from changes in the tax code like eliminating tax credits for education expenses, the gas tax credit (that was supposed to insulate the poor from last-year’s $6 billion tax hike), itemized deductions for property taxes, and deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. The Senate took a more direct path: Raise income taxes in all income brackets for another $2.2 billion.
The plan will allow counties to permanently increase their local sales tax by an additional .5%, add a tax on gifts and tax digital music downloads.
Watch out, sinners. They’re coming to pass judgment and make you pay. Cigarette taxes, increased 75 cents a pack two years ago by the so-called “health impact fee,” and just boosted nearly $1 per pack by the federal government would get another hike of 54 cents per pack. Alcohol will get a tax-boost of a nickel per drink and a doubling of the receipt tax.
Outdoorsmen: get ready to pay more for your boats, ATVs and snowmobiles. The House DFL plan will charge a new sales tax on these purchases in hopes of raising another $10 million for the state’s coffers.
Everyone will be impacted in some way by the tax-hikes proposed by the spend-and-tax politicians in the legislature. The Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition has produced a plan that could solve the state’s deficit while cutting taxes and creating a budget surplus, but our elected officials don’t seem interested in doing the work of real budget reform. It’s Far easier to reach into our wallets again to solve their overspending problem.
ST. PAUL – A group of nine non-partisan, non-profit organizations that formed an informal coalition earlier this year to solve the state’s $6.4 billion state budget deficit has produced a plan that closes the funding gap without raising taxes – in fact, it actually eliminates some taxes. The group’s proposal was introduced at a press conference at the Capitol today.
Lasting Reforms and Tax Breaks Instead of Hikes
The coalition gathered proposals from policy experts and ordinary taxpayers to help identify opportunities to restructure state spending, and then collaborated to put the ideas into practical solutions. The result is a16-page document that solves the budget deficit using existing resources and doesn’t require federal “bailout” money or new taxes.
The budget solution document, titled “Real State Budget Reform” includes recommendations to save the state $6.6 billion through restructuring and greater efficiencies. It also suggests “revenue-neutral” reforms that the group believe will improve Minnesota’s overall economic situation, resulting in more revenue for the state in coming biennia.
“This is more than just a band-aid,” said Phil Krinkie of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, “this is budgeting reform that will have a lasting positive impact on the state’s economics.” The budget solution document is being distributed to all state legislators and to the governor.
“Minnesotans are outraged that their elected officials are once again contemplating raising their taxes,” said Jeff Davis, president of Minnesota Majority. “It seems some lawmakers just aren’t getting the message.” The organization announced that it will be delivering an audio CD each week from now until the end of session with voice mail messages from angry taxpayers demanding cuts in government spending.
All state legislators are also being invited to sign a form stating that they will put spending cuts ahead of tax increases in the effort of balancing the state’s budget. “We are going to make sure that voters know which lawmakers refuse to make this simple commitment to their constituents,” said Davis.
Members of the coalition include: Associated Builders and Contractors, Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Free Market Institute, Minnesota Majority, Freedom Foundation, the Minnesota chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, and Campaign for Liberty.
Join in the fight to protect our wallets and reduce state government spending. The Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition is sponsoring the 2nd Budget Hawk’s Jam & Bash at Trocadero’s Night Club in Minneapolis on Thursday, April 2nd from 5:00 – 8:00p.m.
The first Budget Hawks Jam & Bash in February was wildly successful, with hundreds gathering for refreshments, networking, chats with like-minded neighbors, and political leaders. It was so successful and fun, everyone wants to do it again and it’s an opportunity for those who missed the first one to join in. Learn more about what you can do to fight liberal lawmakers who want to increase spending and raise our taxes at this fun, free event.
Following the latest state budget forecast, Governor Pawlenty put together a revised plan to deal with the state’s projected $6.4 billion deficit. The proposal relies heavily on one-time money, including a $2.6 billion infusion of federal “stimulus” money and $2.3 billion in borrowing and delayed payments. The rest of the budget gap is addressed via spending cuts, while increasing funding for K-12 education by 2% (sort-of).
The K-12 education budget will grow in on paper, but a portion of the money budgeted for schools will be withheld. In the short run, K-12 funding will actually be cut – until the $1.3 billion payment shift kicks in two years from now.
The governor’s previous budget plan tightened Minnesota Care’s eligibility rules. Adults without children would have been precluded. Because of strings attached to the federal money, this change has been reversed in the governor’s revision.
As was the case with Governor Pawlenty’s original budget proposal, the deficit would be closed without increasing taxes, but it is only a temporary solution. Heavy reliance on one-time money means we’ll likely face the same budget problem in the next biennium.
State spending always increases during economic boom years, creating a budget crisis in the bust years. This continues a cycle of alternately expanding government and increasing taxes. Pawlenty’s plan would buck that trend for the time being, by kicking the problem down the road to the next biennium, when the one-time money tricks are no longer available. If we are fortunate and see drastic economic recovery between now and then, perhaps the budget deficit won’t be as large as it is today, but that’s entirely unknown. It could be better. It could be worse. At some point the fundamentals of the state’s budgeting process will have to be reformed. The current model is unsustainable.