Going full circle on the cycle of advocacy – tell your story

October 6, 2011

As the leaves fall, many of us are bracing for the next legislative session and continuing our advocacy for critical state services.  But we also know that the cycle of advocacy is a complete circle—including raising awareness of the consequences of past budget cuts in order to strengthen our case for a balanced approach to meet our state’s future needs in the next budget.

If you are seeing first-hand how families and communities throughout Minnesota are suffering because of severe cuts in the state budget, your stories can help us ensure that the public and policymakers see the human impact of over $2 billion in budget cuts.

Together we can complete the cycle of advocacy and shape public opinion to prevent such severe cuts in the future. If you know about someone who was harmed by a budget cut, or if you or your organization has a story to share, please complete our online Tell Your Story form. We’ll be in touch after we receive your information to discuss ways to publicize it.

For more information, contact me at 651-757-3063 or lgardner@mnbudgetproject.org.

– Leah Gardner


Governor’s current budget offer relies on one-time measures and deep cuts in services

July 14, 2011

On Thursday, policymakers took a significant step in the ongoing discussion of how Minnesota will meet its needs over the next two years. At stake are decisions that will have a profound impact on the state’s future quality of life and economic vitality.

On Thursday morning, Governor Dayton announced an offer that increases the size of the shift in payments to school districts, borrows $700 million from the future through tobacco bonds, and reduces funding for vital public services by more than $2 billion. Late Thursday afternoon, legislative leaders accepted this basic framework. Here are the major elements:

  • $1.4 billion in savings by continuing the current shift in state payments to school districts. Normally, the state pays school districts 90 percent of their annual aid in one fiscal year, and a 10 percent settling-up payment in the following fiscal year. In the 2010 Legislative Session, policymakers changed the formula to a 70/30 percent split to help reduce the state’s budget deficit by shifting the payments into the FY 2012-13 biennium. The Governor and Legislature have agreed from the beginning of the session to delay repaying school districts into the future.
  • $700 million in additional savings by increasing the shift in payments to school districts, going from a 70/30 split to a 60/40 percent split. 
  • $700 million by issuing tobacco bonds that would sell off future tobacco payments in return for a lump sum payment today. We recently blogged on our many concerns with this one-time source of revenue, which borrows from the future.

That leaves $2.2 billion in spending reductions. The details of these cuts have not been agreed to by the Governor and legislative leaders. However, earlier in July, Governor Dayton released a document that sheds some light on how more than $2 billion in cuts could be distributed among the areas of the state budget:

The one detail in the Governor’s offer is that these spending reductions cannot include the Legislature’s proposal to decrease the state government workforce by 15 percent by 2015. If you are looking for more information on the potential impact of $2 billion in cuts, our recent analysis of the Governor’s and Legislature’s budget proposals discusses the cuts that were on the table during the legislative session. 

The Governor’s offer also calls for a $500 million bonding bill, and specifies that the final budget deal would not include either the Governor’s tax proposals or the Legislature’s policy proposals.

Legislative leaders and the Governor are now working out the details of the agreement. The Governor could call a special session as early as next Monday or Tuesday so lawmakers can vote on the compromise.

-Christina Wessel

Shutdown gets its day in court, but no ruling until next week

June 24, 2011

**Note: Judge Kathleen Gearin issued her order on June 29, 2011. For information on what’s included in that order, visit our more recent blog post.**

The question of how the state would (or would not) function in the event of a government shutdown made its way into a courtroom on Thursday. Ramsey County District Judge Kathleen Gearin held a hearing on the “tsunami” of motions, petitions, affidavits and other documents that have been filed with the court in the last several days (last count: 84 documents).

One of the fundamental issues at stake, in our layman’s understanding, is whether Judge Gearin should grant Attorney General Lori Swanson’s petition that a special master be appointed to decide what elements of government should function in the event of a state government shutdown. Governor Dayton is arguing that no special master is required because the executive branch already has the authority to fund core services, which he has specified in court filings.

Those fundamental questions weren’t resolved on Thursday, but other issues were.

  • Judge Gearin rejected Governor Dayton’s petition for the court to appoint a professional mediator to help resolve the differences between himself and the Legislature.
  • Judge Gearin denied a motion from four Republican Senators to intervene in the case, saying their interests were adequately represented by legal counsel for the Senate as a whole. This decision effectively blocked their ability to ask the court to require Governor Dayton to call a special session.

As the clock ticks closer to a possible government shutdown, there appear to be three categories of state spending that will be in question if a budget is not in place by July 1.

One category are funds that some are arguing have already been appropriated by the state or federal government, and so would not fall under the constitutional restriction that “no money shall be paid out of the treasury of this state except in pursuance of an appropriation of law.” These include:

  • Funds that have been appropriated by the federal government, but flow through the state. It was argued that these federal dollars usually come with administrative funds for the state that could be used to cover the staffing needed to process the federal funds during a shutdown.
  • Funds that have been appropriated by the legislature in a prior session. For example, Hennepin County argued that aids to local governments that were appropriated in the 2010 Legislative Session should be paid on July 20 as scheduled in law.
  • Funding authorized through a statutory, standing or open appropriation, like most funding for school districts. This is in contrast to most state funding, which is made through a “direct” appropriation authorizing funds for a specified period of time.

A second category of funds are those that do not meet the hurdle of having been appropriated by the legislature, but pay for services that are considered to be “core” to government. These are situations where the failure to continue services could interfere with constitutionally-guaranteed rights or where “the life, health, safety, and liberty of citizens would be profoundly and irreparably impacted.” In the event of a shutdown, a court-appointed special master could determine what services fall into this category. 

A third category of funds are those that have not been appropriated and the services are not deemed to be protected by the constitution or essential to the immediate health and safety of the public.

Judge Gearin has strongly suggested that any ruling from the court on the question of funding services during a government shutdown is likely to be very limited in scope. She pointed out that policymaking expertise and experience lies with the legislative and executive branch, not with the courts. And in the event the Governor and Legislature cannot come to an agreement and a shutdown occurs, “It’s not the court’s role to make everything better.” Judge Gearin hinted that if a special master is appointed, the boundaries of his authority is likely to be very restricted.

A ruling from Judge Gearin is not expected until sometime next week, possibly as late as June 28 or 29. In the meantime, she pleaded with Governor and Legislature to resolve their differences and stop playing what “feels almost like a game of chicken.”

-Christina Wessel

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