Minnesota lawmakers balanced the state’s budget earlier this year (after an historic government shutdown) by cutting vital programs, delaying payments to schools and issuing bonds against future tobacco settlement monies. Of course, they have been boasting that they balanced the budget without raising taxes, but in reality all they did was pass the buck to localities. Literally. Their cowardice and unwillingness to consider Governor Dayton’s proposal to ask the wealthiest Minnesotans to pay a little more in income taxes is astounding and is resulting in a new kind of “trickle down” economics that we’re seeing in more and more states.
This week the Star Tribune reported that in November a record number of Minnesota school districts – 133 to be precise – will be asking taxpayers to support referendums to help “ward off cuts that have condensed class schedules, provoked higher pay-to-play fees and forced schools to resort to in-school advertising to make ends meet.” Some school districts are accepting ads on student lockers and in mailings to parents. Other still have invited businesses to parent-teacher conferences to hawk their wares, and many have increased parking fees for students. All at a time when 40 percent of school aged children in Minnesota are eligible for reduced cost meals because their parents are already facing their own hard times.
In the St. Cloud area, some local officials are reeling from the impact of the state budget, which reduced the property tax base for some localities and cut local aid. As St. Cloud Mayor (and former state senator) Dave Kleis put it, “There’s certainly a tendency to shift that burden onto those local communities.”
With the multiple fiscal pressures cities face, state legislators who balance their budgets by cutting local funds are putting short-term political gains over the long term economic health of their citizens.