Go ahead, make our day

July 6, 2011

Last week, thousands of people turned to the Minnesota Budget Bites blog to better understand the events unfolding around the state government shutdown. We were here to explain what was happening, share the facts and link people to important resources. And we will continue to be here long after a budget agreement is reached and the shutdown ends.

However, as we are all acutely aware of right now, it takes money to make things run. The Minnesota Budget Project is a nonprofit, and we get our funding largely from foundations and our parent organization, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. While we have strong and loyal support from these sources, we also rely on contributions from individuals and organizations that find our work valuable.

So, if you’ve found our blog to be helpful – or if you’ve appreciated the resources available on our greatly improved website – you can show your support by making a donation. It’s as simple as that. Please donate – a little, a lot, whatever. It’s tax-deductible. And it will make our day.

Thank you!

-Christina Wessel

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For your golden rolodex

January 11, 2011

In the coming weeks, you may want to reach out to Governor Dayton’s office to ask questions or share ideas. Last Friday morning at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofit’s annual Session Line-Up, a representative from the Governor’s office provided an initial list of policy contacts within their office. Here are a few important names you may want to keep handy:

  • On health, human services, Met Council, tribal issues and the stadium, the contact in the Governor’s office is Sean Rahn, 651-201-3425, sean.rahn@state.mn.us.
  • On K-12 education, child care, higher education, elections, redistricting and pensions, the contact is Hue Nguyen, 651-201-3426, hue.nguyen@state.mn.us.
  • On environment, energy, agriculture, commerce and veterans issues, the contact is Will Seuffert, 651-201-3424, will.seuffert@state.mn.us.
  • On jobs and economic development, labor, housing, public safety, judiciary, transportation and bonding, the contact is Erin Campbell, 651-201-3423, erin.campbell@state.mn.us.
  • On tax issues the contact is Jeff Van Wychen, 651-201-3422, jeff.vanwychen@state.mn.us.

-Christina Wessel


November Forecast is out: Time to pull out the bifocals

December 2, 2010

OK, now we know the numbers. But as we consider the figures that were thrown out at today’s release of the November Forecast, let’s not lose sight of the fact that we aren’t just fixing a budget, we are responding to prolonged economic troubles. As we mentioned yesterday in our press release, the challenge facing policymakers is to approach the situation with bifocals – crafting a budget that recognizes the immediate needs of residents still struggling in a weak economy and makes the investments critical to the state’s economic future.

So what are the numbers?

  • There is a $399 million surplus for the current biennium, FY 2010-11. That’s good news – no unallotment or short-term borrowing will be necessary.
  • There is a $6.2 billion deficit for the next biennium, FY 2012-13 (up from the $5.8 billion projected at the end of the 2010 Legislative Session). That equates to about 16 percent of the state’s total general fund budget. If we add the cost of inflation, the size of the deficit increases by an additional $1 billion.

On a positive note, the state’s economist Tom Stinson pointed out that employment growth in Minnesota is above the U.S. average and is expected to stay strong. However, even at this rate it will still take another two years for the state to return to pre-recession employment levels. Economic growth projections have been lowered, and that will mean lower than expected revenues from income, sales, and corporate taxes for the foreseeable future. And it also means that many Minnesota families will continue to face hardships.

Despite the delayed economic recovery, the Forecast still projects that general fund revenues will grow by five percent from FY 2010-11 to FY 2012-13. General fund spending, on the other hand, is projected to grow by 27.5 percent. But before anyone jumps on that number, it’s important to understand most of that figure isn’t new spending. Here’s what I mean:

  • In FY 2010-11, we received $2.3 billion from the federal government that temporarily replaced state funding for education and health care services in Minnesota. That federal stimulus money won’t be there in FY 2012-13.
  • The state shifted $1.9 billion in K-12 education payments from FY 2010-11 into the FY 2012-13 biennium.
  • There were $660 million in one-time reductions (ratified unallotments) made just for FY 2010-11 that don’t continue in FY 2012-13.

When all is said and done, the true growth in spending from this biennium to the next is 6.6 percent – much closer to the projected five percent growth in revenues.

The issues facing the state are significant. For example, there are at least two decisions facing policymakers that will have an impact on the state’s budget situation.

  • The November Forecast assumes the state will repay most of the K-12 payment shift in FY 2012 at a cost of $1.4 billion. Delaying that repayment, or a portion of that repayment, would reduce the size of the deficit. However, it would also continue to cause hardship for many school districts waiting for those dollars.
  • The next Governor can “opt-in” to early expansion of Medical Assistance by January 15. which would provide health care coverage for low-income adults without children that lost their coverage earlier this year and bring in more than $1 billion in federal resources. Opting-in would also reduce the financial pressures on MinnesotaCare, which offers affordable health insurance for working Minnesotans. If the state fails to opt-in to early expansion of Medical Assistance, MinnesotaCare faces a large deficit which could trigger cuts in eligibility for the program. Not opting in would also reduce the general fund deficit by approximately $384 million.

If policymakers are going to successfully meet the challenges ahead, they’ll have to find a way to cooperate and compromise. As the experts pointed out at today’s press conference, all the easy cards have been played (one-time resources, reserves, budget shifts, etc). Now what’s left are the hard decisions. We’ll be working to make sure they are wise decisions.

If you want to read the Forecast documents for yourself, they are available on the Minnesota Management & Budget website.

-Christina Wessel


New website tracks long-term trends in the well-being of Minnesota families

August 2, 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project, along with some amazing research partners, are pleased to announce the launch of Minnesota Data Trends, a website that tracks key indicators of family well-being around the state. The site looks at long-term trends in income, housing costs, transportation costs, access to health insurance, employment and other important measures.

Much has been written in the past year about the struggles of average Minnesotans during the Great Recession. Often lost in the immediate focus on the latest unemployment report or foreclosure data are the longer-term trends showing that low- and moderate-income Minnesota have faced challenges for years and conditions are worsening over time.

For example, the recent Great Recession cannot explain all the job loss in Minnesota. The state gained an average of about 36,000 jobs per year between 1981 and 2000,  but only 1,000 jobs annually between 2001 and 2009. And as jobs become scarcer, housing costs are rising. For nearly two decades (from 1980 until 2000), only eight percent of Minnesota households were paying more than half their income for housing. By 2008, however, nearly 13 percent of households had this level of cost burden.

The goal of Minnesota Data Trends is to provide reliable, baseline information on issues affecting low-and moderate-income Minnesotans. We hope to focus attention on how multiple trends can together place a severe strain on a family’s budget. Any number of factors could put a family with little financial margin into chaos: reduced hours at work, an unexpected car repair or health care bill, or the loss of child care.

The website also acts as a directory of experts on these important issues. In addition to the Minnesota Budget Project, the collaboration has involved the Affirmative Options Coalition, Children’s Defense Fund – Minnesota, JOBS NOW Coalition, Minnesota Community Action Partnership and the Minnesota Housing Partnership.

On the website you will find graphs showing long-term trends that anyone can download and reprint for free. The website also includes the data source for the graph, a brief paragraph summarizing the trend and contact information for further details.

But this is only a beginning – we’ll keep the website updated as new data becomes available.

-Scott Russell & Christina Wessel

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Be a friend of the Minnesota Budget Project!

February 3, 2010

The Minnesota Budget Project is now on Facebook (and, actually, Twitter too)! The results of our poll last week indicated that many of you would be happy to see us expand into this new format. So we are going to give it a go.

Why are we doing this? Well, our mission is to provide information on tax and budget issues. In fact, it’s not only our mission, it’s our passion. We will use our Facebook page to provide more real-time reporting of quick facts from hearings and other meetings, to let you know about upcoming events that we think you would find beneficial, and to share interesting reports or blogs that we come across – all through a method that is quicker and more accessible to those on the go.

We want to address a few issues that arose through our survey:

  • People were concerned that Facebook might replace our blog and e-mails. No need to worry, nothing we currently do is going to change…Facebook is just one more way we can share information.
  • Some are unable to access Facebook at work (or don’t have a Facebook account). As a solution, we are going to post a regular Facebook journal on the blog. The information won’t be as timely as it is on Facebook, but it will allow those who can’t follow us on Facebook, or those who missed something during a busy week, to catch up on any of the really essential information we shared. We won’t include everything – just the information we think has lasting value and would be useful to our blog audience.
  • Some prefer to see us on Twitter. We also went ahead and set up a Twitter account (MNBudgetProject). Whatever we post on Facebook is set up to tweet to Twitter – so it’s yet another way of getting the information.

One thing to keep in mind:  we will continue to maintain the same high standards when it comes to the quality of the information we share through Facebook. We hope that this will be a more interactive environment, but we will still enforce our comment policy – we embrace a civil debate, but will delete any comments that are derogatory, partisan or otherwise inappropriate to our status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

-Christina Wessel

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Would you follow the Minnesota Budget Project on Facebook?

January 26, 2010

Always on the lookout for better ways to serve our audience, we’re considering starting a Facebook page for the Minnesota Budget Project in time for the legislative session. Our goal is to have a place where we can share our work, share the good work of others and continue our quest to get vital tax and budget information into the hands of those who can use it.

How would we use our Facebook page?

  • To report real-time important facts we are picking up at the Capitol or in other places
  • To let people know when an interesting event or great training opportunity is coming up
  • To share useful research being released by us or others

Being a fan of ours on Facebook would enable you to get information even more quickly, access it more easily through your mobile device, share it with others and engage in a conversation with us. In all, this would build on the mission of our blog – to let you know, what we know, when we know it.

However, before committing to this new strategy, we thought we’d do a little market research (and try out our blog’s survey feature!). So, please take our poll and let us know whether there is interest in seeing us on Facebook. Thank you!

(Just to clarify – since a few people have raised concerns since we posted this survey – Facebook would be in addition to everything we already do, it would not replace anything. Our blog and e-mails would continue as always.)

-Christina Wessel

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Scott Russell joins Minnesota Budget Project staff

November 3, 2009

We are very pleased to welcome Scott Russell, who joins us today as our new policy analyst.

Scott has extensive and award-winning experience in writing about complex financial issues as a journalist, covering issues such as education funding, public pensions and the nonprofit sector. Prior to joining the Minnesota Budget Project, Scott was a regular contributor to MinnPost.com, so he also brings plenty of experience writing online content. Scott has worked as a reporter for The Capitol Times in Madison, Wisconsin and the Southwest Journal/Downtown Journal in Minneapolis and does many freelance projects.

Not only does Scott bring investigative skills and knowledge of state and local government to this job, but also a genuine enthusiasm for the work and a passion for the issues.

Over the last few months we’ve definitely been feeling Katherine’s absence as we’ve engaged in a long and challenging search to fill this position. Through the process, we had the privilege of meeting with many very talented candidates. Now we are very excited to have Scott on board and start a new chapter in our work.

-Christina Wessel and Nan Madden


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