Short take: How Minnesotans would have fixed the budget

  • Article by: LORI STURDEVANT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 26, 2011 - 8:38 PM
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Paul Bunyan

What was true in Bloomington last week (as reported in my July 24 column) was also true in Grand Rapids and Rochester: When given the chance to play legislator and balance the 2012-13 state budget, citizens overwhelmingly chose to do so with both tax increases and spending cuts.

The final tally is in from three Citizens Solutions forums, sponsored by the Bush Foundation and InCommons, a citizen empowerment organization. Three events last week drew a total of 130 people. Only three rejected any permanent tax increase; 19 chose no spending cuts.

That left a whopping 83 percent preferring a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to close the $5 billion budget gap that confronted the 2011 Legislature.

In the real Capitol world, that gap was closed with $2.2 billion in spending cuts, $1.4 billion in delayed payments owed to school districts, and $1.4 billion in additional school payment delays and borrowing against future revenues.

Only about a third of the 130 citizens who engaged in the make-believe budgeting exercise opted for any borrowing, and most of them preferred much smaller amounts.

Reform and restructuring was popular with this crowd, but they wouldn't limit that notion to greater efficiency in spending. There's room for tax reform, too, they said.

Among the recurring ideas at the forums was expansion of the sales tax base to more purchases and elimination of a number of income tax deductions.

Whether there's a political price attached to the real world's deviation from the preferences voiced at forums like these won't be known until Nov. 6, 2012. But it's clear already that candidates for reelection next year shouldn't consider the 2011 budget solution a campaign bragging point.

Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.

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