The Governor, as stated in a press conference yesterday, said he would decide to take matters into his own hands and use his line item veto pen and power of unallotment to balance the budget. He says if the legislature can’t do it, he will have to do it himself. There are several things wrong with this scenario, none of which are good for Minnesota.
First of all, Governor Pawlenty says the legislature has not done its job. On the contrary, all of the major budget bills have been placed on his desk earlier than at any time in recent memory. All of the major budget bills, with the exception of the Health and Human Services budget bill (which cut over $500 million), have made deeper cuts than what the Governor had proposed. The Governor’s health care budget bill was debated in the Senate several weeks ago. It received 9 votes.
The Senate and House have developed several plans to come up with a balanced approach to resolving this budget crisis. We have cut budgets, maximized federal stimulus dollars, and introduced a revenue bill which was promptly vetoed by the Governor. The Senate chose not to employ accounting shifts, delay payments, or borrow against future income from tobacco bonds. When the House placed the Governor’s tobacco bond provision on the floor of the House a few weeks ago, it received 2 votes.
What will unallotment mean for Minnesotans? The Governor, last night, has already line item vetoed over $381 million in General Assistance Medical payments to hospitals. The impact of this unallotment? The Queen of Peace Hospital in New Prague will lose $185,000 in GAMC payments in 2011. The Northfield Hospital stands to lose $113, 776. At the top end, the Hennepin County Medical Center will be out $108 million and Regions Hospital in St. Paul will eliminate $46 million from its GAMC program in 2011. Not only do patients suffer, but these cuts mean lost jobs and income for our communities. And all of us will end up paying more to insurance companies or hospitals, as more people end up in emergency rooms for primary care, provided any emergency rooms remain open.
The Governor has also indicated that he will unallot Local Government Aid to our cities and towns in July. Cities are still reeling from the unallotment that took place this past December. Loss of LGA means serious budget cuts to our local services such as police and fire protection, libraries, street maintenance, and other community services. It most certainly means greater property tax increases to make up the difference.
The House and Senate will continue to work with the Governor to find some compromise. He has indicated his willingness to talk to us about shifts, money from the Reserve account, and additional borrowing. The House will have to decide whether an override attempt is in order, the Senate already having override numbers. With a Monday midnight deadline, we will continue to work with the executive branch to wrap this up without having to slash, even further, those budgets that affect communities and our most vulnerable.