Friday, January 30, 2009

Spending less money is bad

That's what state Rep Kory Kath needed 13 paragraphs to say in an op-ed to the Owatonna People's Press today.

Reacting to Gov Pawlenty's budget proposal, Kath offers no ideas of his own, other than to say that nearly every budget cut the governor proposes would be either bad, really bad, or catastrophically bad.

As expected, the governor targeted the health and human services budget, local government aid (LGA), and higher education for significant cuts.

Kath makes it sound like Pawlenty deliberately targeted these areas of the budget because he wanted to. In reality, these three areas represent the most likely areas to be able to offset the cuts through other means. Health care was touted as a natural right by the Obama campaign, and the Congress is already pushing to expand federal health care coverage. Higher education is also not a right in this country, despite what liberals will try to tell you. The truth is that not everyone needs to go to college. And lastly, LGA is a subject near and dear to every DFL heart. Cuts to LGA give each city an option-either cut their budgets accordingly, or increase local taxes. Each city gets to choose.

In some communities, as much as 60 percent of their budget is paid for by LGA dollars. It helps pay for community services such as police and fire departments, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, roads and bridges, parks and libraries — all the things that make a community a good place to live.
Any city that is not able to fund police and fire services, the most basic functions of a city or town, without using LGA is doing something seriously wrong. What is far more likely is cities and towns that pay for discretionary spending out of their general funds, and then need LGA to cover the rest. It's more an accounting trick than pressing financial need.
In 2003, the governor made cuts to LGA to help balance the state budget deficit. At the end of 2008, he made more cuts to address another budget shortfall. This week, LGA was once again targeted. If the governor’s current budget proposal passes, the city of Owatonna will lose almost $2.3 million over the next two years; Waseca will lose just over $1 million. Pulling this much money out of an already lean budget will be painful; property taxes could go up again, and we could lose many important services we depend on. There are already towns in Minnesota that can only afford to plow the streets after every other snowstorm. These additional cuts will only make things worse.

Again, towns that are plowing only after every other storm are making a choice to do so. Cuts to LGA bring budget choices down to the lowest level, so that each town can decide what they want to do. Owatonna has already been cutting its budget in anticipation of LGA cuts. Waseca, just down the road, may decide to pay more in taxes to keep the services they find to be valuable. Each town can decide.
Cuts to higher education are also troubling. At a time when a well-educated workforce is needed more than ever, the governor is proposing an 8.2 percent cut. Schools will be forced to cut courses, staff and faculty — maybe even limit enrollment. This is not a recipe for economic recovery.
I knew that Mr Kath the teacher would have to complain about education. I think it is even mandated by the union.

So which is more important, fire and police or college aid? How can you even put these items on par with each other in the budget? If, as he says, funding cuts are not the recipe for economic recovery, what is?

Oh, that's right. The DFL party in Minnesota doesn't have an answer. Just as they have done for the past 6 years, the wait for the governor to propose his budget, spend a month attacking and ridiculing it, and then sneak their own plan under the radar.

I will go out on a limb right now (it's a short limb) and predict that Rep Kath's own budget proposals will focus on one thing-increasing taxes. The rich need to pay their fair share, he will say. Never mind letting the legislature cut some fat from its own budget.

I'll further predict that we will hear a litany of complaints from the DFL about the budget shortfall that is caused by the recession, yet not a one of them will propose any tax increases that are temporary, designed to ease the budget through the next few years.

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