Gov. Mark Dayton: Not a battle, not a game, but a budget

  • Article by: MARK DAYTON
  • Updated: February 14, 2011 - 10:33 PM

Our situation is tough, but let's work diligently toward a plan. Here's mine:

Gov. Mark Dayton

Gov. Mark Dayton

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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A recent headline ("Fight is on as Dayton vetoes GOP cuts" Feb. 11) was an unfortunate characterization of my decision about the Legislature's partial budget fix and property tax increase.

I have no interest in fighting over our resolution of the state's serious budget crisis.

One legislative leader's reaction -- "game on" -- was also unfortunate. Balancing the budget is not a game; it is a very serious responsibility, which we share.

I'm glad the same leader agreed with me that the deficit we both inherited from the previous governor and Legislature is "a horrendous fiscal mess." At least we both know that we face a monumental task to clean it up.

I am taking the first step in this process by releasing my proposed budget today. The Legislature will then have ample time to develop its alternative.

We will resolve our differences in time for legislators' required adjournment on May 23.

That is the way the process is supposed to work, involving honest disagreements, sincere discussions and, ultimately, reasonable compromises. No fighting or games.

My proposed budget is true to my principles and convictions. It is also true to the campaign promises I made last year.

I believe we must make taxes fairer in Minnesota. Doing so means asking our state's wealthiest citizens to pay more in taxes.

As I have pointed out before, the Minnesota Department of Revenue's analysis is that the richest Minnesotans pay only about three-fourths the percentage of their incomes in state and local taxes as do middle-income Minnesotans. I believe that is unfair and wrong.

I don't expect anyone to like to pay more taxes. I respect that all Minnesotans work hard for every dollar they earn. However, I do ask our most successful citizens to understand our state's desperate financial situation, and I ask them please to help us prevent draconian cuts in essential public services.

I have carefully reviewed the entire state budget, and I have looked for every possible cut in state spending that will not cause terrible harm to schoolchildren, senior citizens, people with disabilities and others with critical needs.

Even then, some Minnesotans will be negatively affected by the spending cuts I have proposed, and I deeply regret the difficulties my proposals would cause them.

Still, my cuts in solving the next biennium's entire $6.2 billion projected deficit are far less hurtful than the ones the Legislature passed last week that would have closed less than one-sixth of that gap.

In the coming weeks, I will advance further spending reductions that will result from my new state agency commissioners, my chief of staff and private management consultants reviewing all state operations for administrative and other savings.

I am committed to saving taxpayers every possible dollar, and spending only those absolutely necessary as efficiently as possible.

My budget keeps my other promises. I increase state funding for K-12 education, even above the amount caused by the 14,000 additional students expected in our schools during the next two years.

I want to increase the number of Minnesota children who can attend kindergarten full time, toward my goal of making all-day kindergarten an option for all of our parents. In the years ahead, I hope we can also expand the important public-private partnerships supporting early childhood education.

My budget also keeps my promise to protect state funding for our cities, counties and townships. Local government aid is crucial to services like police and fire protection, summer street paving, and winter road plowing throughout Minnesota.

Continuing our state payments to school districts and local governments is also crucial to preventing the huge property tax increases that have afflicted so many people in recent years.

During the past eight years, property taxes have jumped from $4 billion to $7 billion statewide, a whopping 75 percent increase. The property tax is the most regressive and unfair of all state and local taxes.

Middle-income families pay four times higher a percent of their incomes in property taxes than the wealthiest citizens. Minnesota businesses pay four times more in property taxes than in the corporate tax.

My budget is not the one I would choose to present to Minnesotans had I inherited decent financial conditions. Instead, it is a hard budget for a tough situation. However, it provides a complete and responsible solution to our crisis.

Everyone now gets to criticize my budget. That, too, is part of the process. However, there is no good solution to a $6.2 billion crisis.

There are only better and worse solutions. If you are unhappy with my proposal, I welcome your help in devising a better one.

Mark Dayton, a DFLer, is governor of Minnesota.

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Gov. Mark Dayton