Public safety compromise still includes cuts in services for vulnerable populations

July 19, 2011

Governor Dayton and the Legislature have released a budget for public safety that increases funding by $17 million in FY 2012-13. The slight increase supports additional funding for prisons, public defenders and the courts, but the budget still includes cuts to services that will impact low-income families needing legal assistance, victims of crime and Minnesotans facing discrimination.

In May, the Legislature approved a bill that reduced general fund spending for public safety by $22 million in FY 2012-13, focusing cuts on services for some of Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations. The Governor took the opposite approach, proposing a $39 million increase for FY 2012-13. 

The working agreement finds a middle ground between these positions.

There continues to be some cuts in services help vulnerable Minnesotans, although less than what was included in the Legislature’s budget. The working agreement:

  • Reduces funding for Legal Aid and other programs that provide free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney to help resolve housing, credit, family matters and other civil issues. State funding for civil legal services has already fallen below 2006 levels. The working agreement cuts civil legal services by nearly $2 million in FY 2012-13, or seven percent, which is less than the $4 million cut approved by the Legislature.
  • Reduces funding for Office of Justice programs by $3 million in FY 2012-13. This is significantly less than the $12 million in cuts approved by the Legislature, which reduced funding for battered women programs, crime prevention services, crime victim assistance and justice system improvements.
  • Reduces funding for the Guardian ad Litem Board, which provides advocacy services for abused or neglected children, minor parents and incompetent adults in juvenile or family court cases. The working agreement cuts funding by $600,000 in FY 2012-13, or two percent, which is less than the $1.5 million cut approved by the Legislature.
  • Reduces funding for the Department of Human Rights by $340,000 in FY 2012-13, or five percent, which is the significantly less than the 65 percent reduction approved by the Legislature. The agency works to end discrimination in Minnesota by investigating complaints, mediating disputes and educating the public about human rights issues.

These funding reductions allow for spending increases in other areas.

The largest increase – a net $21 million in FY 2012-13 – is for the Department of Corrections. The working agreement includes a $27 million increase for the Department of Corrections to make up for the loss of one-time federal economic recovery funds. This funding was included in both the Governor’s and Legislature’s original proposals. This increase, however, is offset slightly by $6 million in cuts. The working agreement adopts the Governor’s proposed cuts to community services and agency operations and some of the Legislature’s reform proposals (such as charging prisoners a $5 copayment for visiting a health care provider).

As both the Governor and Legislature originally proposed, the working agreement includes a slight increase in base funding for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the Trial Courts, the resources going towards inflationary increases in employee health insurance and pension contributions.

There is a $2.5 million increase, or two percent, in funding to help address a deficiency in public defenders, who represent low-income clients in criminal cases. Past budget cuts have taken a significant toll – in half the state’s counties, there no longer are sufficient attorneys on staff to represent clients at their first court appearances. This is less than the $6 million increase proposed by the Governor, but more than the $1.5 million increase approved by the Legislature.

The Legislature’s public safety budget also relied on $18 million in transfers from dedicated funds to help resolve the general fund deficit. The working agreement reduces the amount of one-time transfers to $8 million. The most significant decision was not to include a proposed $5 million transfer from the 911 account (collected from a phone bill tax to fund the emergency response system).

-Scott Russell

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Legislature makes a budget offer

June 16, 2011

On Thursday, the legislature presented an offer to Governor Dayton that withdraws $203 million in tax cuts and slightly backs off of spending cuts in some areas. The major elements of the offer include:

  • Withdrawing the $203 million in tax cuts contained in their tax bill, including gradually eliminating the state property tax paid by businesses and cabins, a corporate tax cut and conforming to a number of federal tax changes.
  • Increasing funding for K-12 education by $80 million above the conference committee target, including $10 million for early education scholarships. This would match the Governor’s spending target in his March budget proposal. However, the additional funding appears to be contingent on the Governor accepting a number of controversial provisions, including shifting integration aid away from core cities, limiting collective bargaining rights, and instituting a new teacher and principal evaluation system.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to higher education by $50 million. The legislature still leaves $361 million in cuts to higher education in FY 2012-13, $190 million more than the Governor.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to the environment and energy by $13 million. The budget proposals from the legislature and Governor would still differ by a significant margin.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to public safety and the judiciary by $30 million, bringing the legislature closer to the Governor’s proposed increase in base funding for this area.
  • Providing $9 million for flood and disaster relief.
  • Reducing proposed cuts to tax aids and credits by $20 million, which would not make much of a dent in the $925 million in proposed cuts in aids to cities and counties and property tax refunds for low- and moderate-income renters, which are expected to result in increased property taxes.

The legislature’s offer doesn’t include any changes in the funding targets for health and human services, transit, jobs and economic development, or state government. The offer “expires” at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, June 20.

Governor Dayton expressed disappointment with the offer, suggesting that it didn’t show real movement on the part of the legislature.

-Christina Wessel


A tale of two visions: Public safety

June 9, 2011

Minnesota is projected to spend around $1.8 billion on our courts, prisons and other public safety services in the FY 2012-13 biennium. Given the amount of funding for this area, the level of changes proposed by Governor Dayton and the legislature are relatively small, but they are still significant.

The Governor proposes a $39 million increase in public safety in FY 2012-13, or two percent, which focuses on additional funding for prisons, public defenders and the courts. The legislature cuts general fund spending by $22 million in FY 2012-13, or one percent, focusing those reductions on some of society’s most vulnerable people: low-income families needing legal assistance, victims of crime, women in abusive relationships and Minnesotans facing discrimination.

There are several areas where the Governor and legislature share similar goals, but there are sometimes important differences in the scale of the proposal:

  • There is a slight increase in base funding for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the Trial Courts in both proposals, the resources going towards inflationary increases in employee health insurance and pension contributions.
  • There is additional funding for public defenders, who represent low-income clients in criminal cases. Past budget cuts have taken a significant toll – in half the state’s counties, there no longer are sufficient attorneys on staff to represent clients at their first court appearances. The Governor’s proposal increases funding for public defenders by $6 million in FY 2012-13, or five percent. The legislature increases funding by $1.5 million, or one percent.
  • There is a $27 million increase in both budgets for the Department of Corrections to make up for the loss of one-time federal economic recovery funds. However, the Governor proposes $4 million in reductions to other areas of corrections, including community services and agency operations. The legislature proposes $16 million in reductions in that impact correctional institutions, community services and agency operations.
  • Money is transferred from other funds to help resolve the general fund deficit. The Governor transfers $400,000 from the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board to the general fund in FY 2012-13. The legislature goes much further, transferring $18 million from various dedicated public safety accounts to the general fund in FY 2012-13, including nearly $9 million from the Fire Safety Account, which is dedicated to training.

The Governor and legislature move in opposing directions when it comes to the Guardian ad Litem Board, which provides advocacy services for abused or neglected children, minor parents and incompetent adults in juvenile or family court cases. The Governor increases funding by $329,000 in FY 2012-13, or one percent. The legislature cuts funding by $1.5 million in FY 2012-13, or six percent.

A proposal unique to the Governor’s budget is a $3 million increase for the Network for Better Future pilot program in FY 2012-13. This funding helps provide housing and employment support for men at high risk of prison or treatment needs.

Proposals unique to the legislature’s budget include:

  • Reducing funding for Office of Justice programs by $12 million in FY 2012-13, or 17 percent. Funding would be reduced for battered women programs, crime prevention services, crime victim assistance and justice system improvements.
  • Reducing state funding by $4 million, or 17 percent, for Legal Aid and other programs that provide free legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney to help resolve housing, credit, family matters and other civil issues. State funding for civil legal services has fallen below 2006 levels. The legislature also limits the ability of legal aid and similar state-funded programs to lobby the legislature and pursue legal actions against the state and federal government on behalf of their clients.
  • Reducing funding for the Department of Human Rights by $4 million in FY 2012-13, or 65 percent. This agency works to end discrimination in Minnesota by investigating complaints, mediating disputes and educating the public about human rights issues. As Booker Hodges of the Minneapolis NAACP pointed out during our 20 Ways in 20 Days campaign, “Slashing funding…would mean increased discrimination and decreased employment opportunities for communities of color at a time when Minnesota should be moving forward to address existing disparities.”

The spending reductions in the legislature’s budget fall heavily on services for the most vulnerable, including legal services for low-income families and assistance for victims of crime. In his veto letter, the Governor strongly opposed many of the legislature’s cuts, including those to Legal Aid, Office of Justice programs and the Department of Human Rights. On June 6, the legislature offered to increase their proposed level of funding for public safety by $30 million in order to address concerns raised by the Governor. However, negotiations on public safety are likely to continue until policymakers have reached agreement on funding levels for all areas of the budget.

-Christina Wessel & Scott Russell


Cuts-only approach to budget jeopardizes the safety of families working to escape domestic violence

April 25, 2011

A cuts-only approach to meeting Minnesota’s needs will jeopardize the safety of families working to escape domestic violence.

Proposed Cut: The Minnesota House proposes a 17.5 percent cut to Office of Justice Programs that would result in drastic cuts to domestic violence services statewide.

Consequence: Jennifer is a mother, successful business owner and community leader. She is also a survivor of 17 years of domestic violence. In 2008 after she was brutally beaten, held hostage and raped by her husband, the police introduced her to Southern Valley Alliance for Battered Women. Jennifer worked with an advocate to develop a safety plan allowing her and her daughter to survive a life-threatening situation. Today she owns two early childhood learning centers that help subsidize services for several victims of domestic violence. As a survivor, Jennifer is grateful for the support she received and credits Southern Valley Alliance with saving her life. She is also proud to be able to use her voice and business resources to support other women working to escape violence.

Domestic violence services play a critical role in the safety and survival of families like Jennifer’s. Cutting their state funding would eliminate a critical lifeline in a successful system that ultimately saved Jennifer’s life. By raising revenues, Minnesota can continue to invest in safe families and communities, ultimately saving the lives of countless women and children in our state.

Solution: Let’s protect Minnesota’s communities, residents and quality of life. We cannot afford to take a cuts-only approach to meeting our state’s needs, jeopardizing the safety of families escaping domestic violence. Minnesotans know we need a balanced approach, one that includes raising revenues based on ability to pay, in order to maintain critical state services that support Minnesotans in tough times and invest in our future.

Invest in Minnesota, a coalition of faith, labor and nonprofits (including the Minnesota Budget Project) supporting revenue raised fairly, is launching a 20 Ways in 20 Campaign. The campaign will release a new testimonial every week day April 25 through May 20 to demonstrate the damage of a cuts-only approach.

  • For more information about protections at risk for families escaping domestic violence, contact ThaoMee Xiong with the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women at 651-646-6177, ext. 10.
  • For more information about the 20 Ways in 20 Days Campaign or Invest in Minnesota, contact Leah Gardner at 651-757-3063.
  • Download the PDF version of this story to spread the word about the impact of proposed budget cuts.

Legislature’s public safety budgets focus cuts on vulnerable Minnesotans

April 4, 2011

Compared to other areas of the state budget, it appears the court system and public safety services fare well in the budget bills presented by the Governor, House and Senate. However, a little digging reveals some harmful cuts within the House and Senate proposals that will negatively impact access to legal representation and crime prevention services (both the House and Senate are now both working off of Senate File 958).

The House, Senate and Governor all propose increasing funding for the Department of Corrections by $27 million to partially restore a cut to core prison operations that was made in the 2010 Legislative Session. However, the House and Senate must turn to cuts in other areas of public safety – including services for children, youth and other vulnerable populations – to meet their budget targets. In the end, the House increases general fund spending for public safety by $10 million and the Senate cuts funding by $30 million. The Governor, in contrast, increases public safety funding by $39 million from base funding in FY 2012-13.

Access to legal representation. Overall, the Governor proposes a two percent increase in funding for court operations, the Senate proposes a one percent increase, and the House holds funding flat. Minnesota’s court system includes the Supreme Court, District Court, the Court of Appeals and other agencies. To pay for some small funding increases in this area, the House and Senate proposals make spending cuts that will limit access to adequate legal representation.

  • Civil legal services support legal aid and pro bono legal services, helping people with limited income address family law, child custody and foreclosure matters, landlord-tenant disputes, and other civil issues. State funding for civil legal services has fallen by 11 percent between 2008 and 2011 and is currently below 2006 levels. The Governor recommends flat funding for these services, the Senate cuts funding by six percent, and the House cuts funding by 17 percent in FY 2012-13 and 25 percent in FY 2014-15. The House proposal also limits the ability of legal aid and similar state-funded programs to lobby the legislature and pursue legal actions against the state and federal government on behalf of their clients.
  • The goal of the Guardian ad Litem Board is to provide a well-trained advocate “for every abused or neglected child whose case enters the court system.” The Governor increases funding for the board by one percent in FY 2012-13. The House cuts funding by three percent and the Senate by eight percent. These reductions will most likely reduce the services available to support children of divorcing couples.
  • Public Defenders are appointed in criminal cases when defendants cannot afford an attorney. Having an adequate number of public defenders is an issue of both justice and efficiency. Past budget cuts have taken a significant toll – in half of the state’s counties, there no longer are sufficient attorneys on staff to represent clients at their first court appearances. The Senate increases public defender funding by two percent in FY 2012-13, while the House leaves funding flat. The Governor increases funding by five percent in FY 2012-13. 

Ending discrimination in Minnesota. The Minnesota Department of Human Rights works to end discrimination in Minnesota by investigating complaints, mediating disputes and educating the public about human rights issues. The Senate cuts funding by 50 percent and the House cuts funding by 65 percent, directing the agency to eliminate its educational role and focus its resources on investigations. The Governor keeps funding for the agency flat in FY 2012-13. 

Prevention services. Office of Justice programs within the Department of Public Safety work on crime prevention, crime victim assistance and improvements to the justice system. The House cuts funding for these programs by 17 percent in FY 2012-13, limiting cuts to battered women programs to a maximum of 11 percent. The Senate cuts funding by five percent in FY 2012-13, including eliminating grants for youth and community crime prevention. The Governor proposes essentially flat funding for these services in the FY 2012-13 biennium, although he recommends $3 million in one-time funding for Network for Better Futures to complete a pilot program that provides housing, employment and other supports to men at high risk of entry or re-entry into corrections or chemical or mental health programs (the House and Senate do not fund this pilot program).

Other initiatives. The House plans to achieve $17 million in savings in public safety in FY 2012-13 by cutting back on management and reducing inmate medical per diems. The bill also calls for studies into potential cost savings from deporting undocumented immigrants, early release of prisoners, and/or closing correctional facilities. Other initiatives in the House bill include moving offenders with 60 days or less on their prison sentences to county facilities, which shifts these costs to the county level, and charging inmates a copayment for health care visits.

One-time transfers. All three budget bills use one-time transfers from dedicated public safety funds to help resolve the state’s general fund deficit.

  • The House transfers a total of $16 million from funds including the Fire Safety Account, the Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) account, the Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response (ARMER) account – funded by the 911 service fee on our phone bills, and some special revenue accounts at the Department of Corrections.
  • The Senate transfers a total of $8 million from the Fire Safety Account and special revenue accounts at the Department of Corrections.
  • The Governor transfers a total of $400,000 from the POST account.

Both the House and Senate have passed their bills off of the floor and are headed to a conference committee. Unfortunately, these proposals would increase barriers to adequate legal representation for many vulnerable Minnesotans.

-Scott Russell


Small increases for public safety under Governor Dayton’s budget

February 23, 2011

Governor Dayton’s public safety budget boosts funding for prisons and public defenders and includes small increases for the courts, but in general holds public safety funding flat. Although the proposed funding levels don’t keep pace with increases in demand for public safety services, this area is spared from deep cuts in the Governor’s budget proposal.

The state’s public safety infrastructure – which includes the courts, the Department of Corrections and the Department of Public Safety – is under considerable strain. The Governor’s budget documents point out that the economic downturn has increased consumer-related court matters, cuts to public defenders have significantly reduced their capacity to provide adequate and timely representation, prisons are facing growth in costs for utilities and health care that exceeds the rate of inflation, and federal funds for homeland security and law enforcement have been declining.

The Governor’s budget protects funding for the court system. The Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the Trial Courts would all get slight increases – about one percent – that would go towards inflationary increases in employee health insurance and pension contributions.

On the criminal side of the courts, the Governor’s plan includes a five percent increase to the Board of Public Defense‘s budget to address the need for adequate staffing so that clients receive constitutionally-required representation. Past budget cuts have taken a significant toll on the board’s capacity – in half the state’s counties, the Board no longer has sufficient attorneys on staff to represent clients at their first appearances. Further, public defenders increasingly rely on help from volunteers and law students.

The Governor does not recommend any increases for civil legal services, which provides legal assistance to Minnesota’s most vulnerable populations – low-income families, the elderly, people with disabilities and children. State funding for civil legal services has fallen by 11 percent between 2008 to 2011 and is currently below 2006 levels. Adding further financial stress, a $25 annual attorney registration fee the Supreme Court added in FY 2010-11 to support civil legal services is set to expire this July.

The Governor’s budget does not recommend any reductions to the Department of Human Rights. The Department says that it is processing an increased number of human rights complaints, and faces legislative pressure to increase compliance audits on state bonding contracts.

The Governor’s budget proposes to increase funding for the Department of Corrections by nearly three percent over base funding in FY 2012-13. Changes in this area include:

  • $27 million increase in core prison operations to restore a cut made in the 2010 Legislative Session. The funding will prevent the loss of essential positions and maintain prison safety.
  • $3 million reduction in offender supervision, with state and county corrections absorbing the reduction by implementing alternative strategies to supervise low-risk offenders. The 2.5 percent cut translates into 22 fewer supervising agents with a combined caseload of 1,500 to 2,000 offenders.

The Governor’s budget proposal does not include any major changes to the Department of Public Safety’s budget for FY 2012-13. However, funding for this area would drop 12 percent compared to FY 2010-11, a budget cycle that included significant one-time spending on disaster relief. Some of the Governor’s minor changes in this area include:

  • $3 million one-time appropriation for the Network for Better Futures to complete a pilot program that provides housing, employment and other supports to men at high risk of entry or re-entry into corrections, or chemical or mental health programs.
  • Continuing the “technology surcharge,” a $1.75 driver’s license fee to pay for technology upgrades. It is set to expire in FY 2012 and the Governor would extend it through FY 2015. This fee flows to a special revenue account and does not reduce the state’s budget deficit.
  • Transferring just over $5 million from the Fire Safety Account to the general fund to help reduce the state budget deficit. Money for the Fire Safety Account comes from a surcharge on homeowner insurance policies and commercial fire policies. State leaders used a similar transfer to help balance the FY 2010-11 budget and this is one of the few fund transfers included in the Governor’s budget.

-Scott Russell


Senate moves quickly on first phase of its plan to balance budget

March 8, 2010

The state Senate has started to lay out the details of the first phase of its budget balancing plan. At a Senate Finance hearing Monday morning, committee chairs presented their budget proposals for higher education; the judiciary; environment, energy and natural resources; and agriculture and veterans affairs. The Senate’s proposed reductions are similar to the Governor’s supplemental budget, although there are some important differences.

Higher Education. The Governor proposed a $53 million reduction to this budget area in FY 2010-11, while the Senate proposes a $48 million reduction. Both the Governor and Senate would cut funding for the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to the maximum level allowed under federal restrictions connected to accepting stimulus dollars. Funding would be reduced to 2006 levels, resulting in a $36 million cut to the University of Minnesota and a more than $10 million cut to MnSCU in FY 2010-11.

However, the Governor and Senate differ significantly on reductions to financial aid programs. The Governor proposes a $2.3 million permanent reduction to the Minnesota State Grant program, eliminates the 9th semester of financial aid eligibility and ends the Summer Transition Grant program (which helps students pay for summer courses to improve academic skills before they enter college). The Senate does not cut base funding for the State Grant program, keeps the 9th semester of eligibility and partially preserves the Summer Transition Grant program. However, both the Governor and Senate would institute some rationing in the State Grant program to address a shortfall (students and families would be asked to contribute more to the cost of college) and both cut $2.5 million from the State Work Study program (these were new resources just approved last session).

Judiciary. The Governor proposed a $18 million reduction to this budget area in FY 2010-11, while the Senate proposes a $19 million reduction. In general, the Senate proposal cuts the judiciary by 1.7 percent in FY 2010 and by 3.4 percent beginning in FY 2011. As a result, the Senate would cut more from the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, District Courts and Public Defense Board than the Governor’s proposal. However, the Senate recommends smaller reductions to Civil Legal Services, the Court of Appeals and the Tax Court.

Environment, Energy and Natural Resources. The Governor proposed a $15 million reduction to this budget area in FY 2010-11, while the Senate proposes a $19 million reduction. The Governor’s proposal relied on a number of transfers from special revenue accounts. The Senate felt many of those proposed transfers were not appropriate, so the committee had to look at deeper spending cuts to meet its target. As a result, under the Senate proposal, most areas of this budget received a three percent reduction in FY 2010 and a permanent eight percent reduction beginning in FY 2011.

Agriculture and Veterans Affairs. The Governor proposed a $5.7 million reduction to this budget area in FY 2010-11, while the Senate proposes an $8.0 million reduction. Both the Governor and Senate avoid reductions to the Military Affairs and Veterans Affairs departments. The Senate also adopts most of the Governor’s reductions to agricultural grants and programs. The Senate, however, proposes to significantly delay a portion of the ethanol payments to providers (saving $6.6 million per biennium beginning in FY 2010-11). These payments would be repaid at some point in the future. The Governor proposed a one-time $1.7 million cut in ethanol payments.

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up the economic development, public safety, transportation and state government proposals on Wednesday. All of these budget areas are being combined into a single budget bill.

-Christina Wessel

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