Monday, January 17, 2011

Was our state budget deficit a political ploy?

Mitch runs down the false logic of claiming that Minnesota has a 6.2 billion dollar budget deficit, explaining that what we really have is a gap between revenue and the DFL's wish list for spending.  This 6.2 billion figure was the constant theme and talking point of the 2010 election in Minnesota, and was a smart political play by the DFL legislature.

Conservatives at the national level have long suspected that President Obama and the Democrat party intend to ramp up spending on anything and everything to the point where massive tax increases are inevitable, kind of a reverse starve the beast.  But the DFL in Minnesota went one further, manufacturing a deficit in order to make tax increases palatable.

Consider it from the opposite angle- the GOP legislature adjourns in 2012, having spent (for argument's sake) 34 billion for the general fund.  The outgoing legislature (all up for re-election again in 2012 because of redistricting) sets the budget forecast or tail for 2013 and 2014 at a spending level of 30 billion each year.  Using the same standards by which the DFL claimed a massive budget deficit this year, the GOP could go into election 2012 claiming an 8 billion dollar budget surplus.

Would that be intellectually honest?  Probably not, unless the GOP hired a psychic.  The problem with budget spending forecasts is that it is nearly impossible to accurately predict the needed level of funding for a department several years out.  Here in Minnesota, the DFL simplifies that process by simply telling budget heads to take their current spending and decide how much it needs to increase.  If the new GOP majority is successful, we could see zero based budgeting in Minnesota, forcing department heads to start from scratch every year on programs they run and justify every dollar of funding.  But zero based budgeting will make budget funding forecasts even more difficult.

When you explain to your friends and neighbors this summer why Minnesota isn't actually slashing school funding by half, turning mentally ill patients out on the street, denying emergency medical care to the indigent, or any other of the dozens of doomsday scenarios that were predicted by liberals last year if we cut our way out of the massive budget deficit, perhaps the best way to explain it is that it was a clever political ploy by the DFL.  They choose the battlefield for the debate over the budget, and tried to force conservatives to play defense.  But it didn't work, and the GOP took over both chambers of the legislature, and came within half a percent of retaining the governor's mansion as well.

But the real boon for conservatives may yet be to come.  Just as liberals in Minnesota were forced to eat crow over their dire predictions of Minnesota turning into the Wild West with the passage of the permit to carry law (light rail has been more deadly to Minnesotans that conceal carry), so too the DFL will have to explain why their dire predictions don't come true about the budget.  Predictions like-

"our grandparents will have to move 100 miles from their grandchildren to the only available nursing home"

"slash funding so dramatically that it will force teacher layoffs, raise property taxes and harm education for students"

"balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the sick, the young, and the old"

"reduced spending on Local Government Aid (LGA) and County Aid will be part of the proposed Republican budget solution...(C)uts to this funding will result in either diminished services or higher property taxes"

"cutting the money that pays for our firefighters, police and first responders, and decreasing investments in roads to move goods make Minnesota less attractive for employers"

"limiting school busing or only holding school four days a week rather than five"

"There will be significant cuts to services for people with mental and physical disabilities"

"The reality is these are massive cuts.  Pawlenty already forced the legislature to amputate limbs.  I'm at a loss for analogies to describe what Emmer wants to do to the remnants of Minnesota ... selling organs, maybe?"

The media will likely try to help the DFL out of this prediction that wont come true-talking up the false logic of "smaller than expected increases are actually cuts", and how class sizes stayed where they were instead of getting smaller as they would have with a tax increase to those evil rich.

But in the end, even if Minnesota has to shut down government in the stare down between the GOP legislature and the DFL governor, life in Minnesota will go on without any huge tragedies.  But rather than be content with our conservative victory, we need to remind our friends and neighbors of the dire predictions made by liberals this last year, and the fact that they didn't come true.


Kevin Watterson said...

If Republicans "starve the beast," what the DFL is doing can accurately be labeled "bloat the beast."

Anonymous said...

Thul how did you race go? Oh that is right Representative Kath won by 6% more in 2010 then he did in 2008. Ouch. Get a real job!

Dave Thul said...

You wound me anonymous! How will I ever recover from such a witty and cutting insult?

Check the next post for the answer.