Gov. Tim Pawlenty has made cutting state aid to cities and counties look easy -- if one doesn't mind dodging unallotment lawsuits. Cutting city annd county aid in a manner that's fair to all sections of the state is another matter. The complex formulas that aim to send state money where it's needed most also make a fair cut hard to come by.
DFL tax chairs Ann Lenczewski in the House and Tom Bakk in the Senate briefed Capitol reporters Tuesday on their plan to cut aid to cities and counties $105 million in the next 15 months. That cut would be about 40 percent of the amount Pawlenty recommended for the remainder of the current two-year budget cycle. The legislators said their plan to close a $1 billion budget gap goes easier on cities and counties than the governors because local governments have borne a disproportionate share of previous state cuts, via gubernatorial unallotment.
Lenczewski explained that because of those previous actions, affluent Minnesota cities no longer receive state aid. They can't share in further cuts. The burden of balancing the state budget this year will fall only on cities that, by the numbers, need state help to pay for local services. Lenczewski and Bakk are looking for ways to spread that burden more widely. Among their ideas: a cap on the percentage cut any given jurisdiction can sustain.
The fairness problem Lenczewski described goes beyond state aid to cities and counties. Much of the money state government spends is means-tested in some fashion. It's targeted at people and places that have needs they can't afford to meet on their own. Balancing the state budget with cuts alone forces needy Minnesotans to bear the lion's share of the burden of solving the whole state's problem. If Minnesotans want a state budget solution in which every citizen participates, budget cuts alone won't do the job. It takes a tax increase to nick upper-income people too.