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Rice County Meeting

Friday, June 25th, 2010

health Rice County MeetingThis past Tuesday, Representatives David Bly, Patti Fritz, and I visited with Rice County Commissioners and several other Rice county officials.  It was a good meeting with an opportunity to hear the concerns of our county leaders who have some real concerns with the state budget and its effects on county services.

The point was made clearly by County Administrator Gary Weiers that County governments are finding it increasingly difficult to carry out the federal and state government’s business with continued cuts to County program aid.  Without reducing the mandates, business as usual cannot continue. In 2010 State funding to Rice County was reduced by over $1.3 million. Revenue reductions without mandated reductions are a cost shift from state to local governments.    This has a big effect on social services, our district courts, and the dozens of agencies and departments that allow local government work to for Rice County residents.

Paul Beaumaster, Rice County attorney, expressed concerns that reductions to the courts are impacting counties by attempting to shift costs for legal representation in certain cases.  Lines have become blurred as to who should pay the real costs of our court system, the state or the county?  Mark Shaw, director of Social services, expressed his concerns that severe budget cuts now will have long term implications later.  Those people served by county services, even more during the recession, will have greater needs at greater taxpayer expense, unless they receive help now.  With the state facing a $6-7 billion shortfall next biennium, we need to be talking about solutions now.  The Representatives and I will be meeting with County officials throughout the district in the months to come.

Sentence to Serve

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

While the State faces the daunting task of cutting over $900 million from the budget this year and who knows how many billions next year, it would seem easy to look over the State’s allocations and start whacking away. Believe me, it’s not that easy.
Let’s look at one particular item, buried deep in the Judiciary budget: the Sentence to Serve Program, just one of the items on the Governor’s chopping block. This program takes prisoners out of the local jails and allows them to “work off” part of their jail time, as well as other direct costs. The city of LeCenter has used the Sentence to Serve program several times. The prisoners there helped paint the city owned swimming pool, cleaned up debris along Highway 99, helped with brush chipping, worked at the city/county recycling center, painted city buildings, and picked up trash at the local parks. These probationers work hard. They finish their work with a real sense of accomplishment. Today a city council woman from Waterville shared a story with me of a recently released prisoner who asked her for directions to the local park he had worked on a few years ago. He was proud of the work he had done and was eager to revisit the fruits of his labor.
These tangible benefits are totally lost in the monetary considerations of a budget crisis. It is so important that we as a State take a holistic and systematic view of the costs and benefits of any program. There is so much at stake.

No, Thank You.

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I recently held a town meeting in a small town on the Western side of my Senate district. As the town meeting turned its focus to the budget crisis, one gentleman stood up claiming to have all of the answers regarding Minnesota’s budget woes. He said he had a proposal for “solving the state’s budget deficit without raising taxes.” I said I was interested in his “list” and he said he would be sure to send it to me. Sure enough, a few days ago I received a document outlining what some of those cuts might look like. Here is a small sampling of some of what Minnesota could expect (and I quote):

• Eliminate intrusive and ineffective home visiting and mental health screening programs
• Eliminate Early Childhood Professional Development
• Eliminate Kindergarten Readiness Assessment and Intervention Programs
• Eliminate Preschool screening and ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education)
• Eliminate Early Childhood Literacy
• Eliminate After School Community Learning Grants
• Repeal the public school staff development mandate
• Reduce the number of MNSCU campuses
• Require the DNR to fully self-fund via fees
• Eliminate Local Government Aid
• Reduce Court appropriations and increase attorney’s annual license
• Reduce Human Rights Department funding
• Provide Health Insurance subsidies, not Health care services and payments

No thank you. If this list is a solution, count me out. The cuts to early childhood education alone would set this state back 30 years creating a host of problems for years to come. We need to reaffirm the connection between intelligent investments and the public benefits we receive in return. We are a state of community minded people who care about our children, our neighbors, the elderly, and the poor. We value these public assets and most of us are more than willing to pay for them.

The document to which I refer comes from the Minnesota Budget Solutions Coalition which includes organizations such as the Minnesota Majority, Taxpayers League of Minnesota, Minnesota Family Council, and NFIB Minnesota Chapter… to name a few.

Raiding the Piggy Bank

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

Imagine Junior working and saving for years, pocketing part of the money he earns on his paper route, hoping to squirrel away enough money for a down payment on his college education. That’s a nice story until Dad breaks open the piggy bank to skim off some funds that he says aren’t being used.
The same story is being played out in the Minnesota state budget. Workers forward part of their hard earned pay into dedicated funds only to see the Governor raiding their piggy banks to transfer the money to the General Fund. Last year the Governor proposed eliminating the Health Care Access Fund and transferring all provider tax revenues into the general fund. Why should the Health Care Access Fund serve as a slush fund to pay for projects unrelated to health care or to balance the state’s budget?
This year we learned the Governor’s supplemental Budget was to transfer $267,000 from the snowmobile dedicated account and another $400,000 from the ATV account to the General Fund. Only after organized outrage from these groups did the Governor back down from that proposal.
Electrical contractors are seeing a $1.5 million transfer from the Construction Codes and Licensing Division’s continuing education fund to the General fund. These dollars were paid for by electrical contractors from across the state to offset costs related to education courses, seminars and registration fees for necessary ongoing and required training.
Pick up the daily paper and you will read more of the same. The Star Tribune reported today the Governor’s supplemental budget calls for $1.2 million to be taken from the state’s Water Recreation Account – funds generated by the 860,000 boaters in the form of fee and boat registration – and transferred to the General Fund. Projects that include boat ramps and canoe and boat route management get axed.
More and more of our dedicated funds are not finding their way to their original and intended purpose. Those paying into these various funds are left holding a broken piggy bank with less incentive to continue paying. They are angry and rightfully so. Allowing this practice is a dangerous precedent and will lead to further raiding of our dedicated accounts.

Long Term Budget still needs Fix

Saturday, October 3rd, 2009

I was reading a letter to the editor a few weeks ago from a reader who was surprised to see the world had not ended as a result of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s unallotment solution to fix the budget deficit for the FY 2010-11 biennium. The writer cited a lack of crying and gnashing of teeth as proof that the Governor’s unprecedented actions were justified in these tough economic times. The truth is, many schools have had some difficulty securing short term loans to make ends meet due to delayed payments and many of the unallotment plans, such as general assistance medical care and higher education, will not go into effect until 2010. In addition, the unallotment solution did nothing to resolve the more looming problems of the future. The decision to rely heavily on one-time measures to fix the current deficit will have long term implications as Minnesota is facing persistent budget deficits.
According to the Minnesota Budget Project (July 2009) the deficit could increase substantially, depending on a number of factors:
• If delayed payments to school districts are repaid (and they should be), the deficit would increase by up to $1.8 billion.
• If General Assistance Medical Care is restored, a program for very low-income adults without children, the deficit would increase by up to $890 million.
• If the impact of inflation is taken into account, the deficit would increase by $1.4 billion.
• If the economy does not improve as was forecasted this past February, the deficit would increase by an unknown amount.
When the state’s next economic forecast is released – likely in early December, Minnesota could face another huge budget deficit for 2012-13 and may see additional deficit open up for the current biennium. Without additional federal stimulus funds, which lessened the impact of the current deficit, we face fewer resources to solve future deficits. We as lawmakers must solve the budget crisis with an eye to the future considering all budget-balancing solutions.

Vote Kevin Dahle 2012