Viewpoint: Legislature's plan: what people wanted
In 2009, the State Legislature approached the historic budget deficit and economic crisis by looking at each budget cut, each spending option and each revenue raiser as we considered budget options to ensure Minnesota's short and long-term economic recovery. The session ended with the governor's signature on our budget finance bills (with some line-item vetoes), but not the revenue bills. As a result of the governor's vetoes there's a gap of $2.7 billion.
This session the House of Representatives passed legislation that, despite a record state budget deficit, would create a stable and ongoing funding source for schools, hospitals and nursing homes. We offered a plan that uses a combination of cuts, leveraging federal money, reforms of current programs, and raising revenue progressively to protect our priorities. We took a path that would protect our most vulnerable citizens, provide essential services, retain and create jobs, prevent more property tax increases, and invest in what we value the most.
Our plan reflects the input of Minnesotans and their preference to raise specific taxes to sustain our schools, hospitals and nursing homes. Early in the session we sought input from Minnesotans by holding a series of statewide town hall meetings to listen to constituent concerns and ideas about the state of our economy and budget solutions.
The overwhelming message Minnesotans shared with their legislative leaders was their willingness to work together to address our economic crisis, but they also asked for real changes that will make our state economy healthy into the future. We listened to their advice and developed a budget framework that reflects a commitment to Minnesota's priorities.
The governor's response to our sensible, pay-as-you-go approach to correct the budget shortfall is a disappointing, short-sighted borrowing plan which was widely rejected by both Republicans and Democrats because it would create $1.6 billion in debt that will have to be paid for by future generations. His insistence on using a new credit card to pay off an existing credit card not only compounds our debt problems, his budget proposal would throw more than 113,000 people off health care, compromise the state of our nursing homes and long-term care facilities and cut more than 16,000 jobs.
The governor has line-item vetoed $381 million for the General Assistance Medical Care Program, which is health care for the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick. This is a deep cut to hospitals statewide which serve these Minnesotans who are often homeless and suffer from chronic physical and mental illness. For our area, the Regina Medical Center in Hastings will lose $392,348, the Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury will lose $683,216, and Regions Hospital in St. Paul will face a $46 million budget cut -- 10 percent of its gross revenue.
Regions Hospital employs roughly 5,000 people and serves nearly 23,000 patients every year. My major concern is how the governor's additional cuts will impact more job losses statewide. While our budget cuts were greater than the governor's proposed cuts, our cuts were strategic and fair.
There were many positive initiatives this legislative session:
n The Public Safety Policy bill signed into law will create a more cost-effective criminal justice system while balancing the reality of a large budget deficit. I authored provisions in the bill to prohibit the use of electronic devices to sexually solicit children, and prohibit registered predatory offenders on intense supervised release from accessing social networking Web sites, instant messaging and chat room programs.
n The Clinical Trials bill amends the civil commitment act by prohibiting individuals who are on a stayed commitment from giving consent to participate in a psychiatric clinical drug trial. Participation is permitted under specified circumstances if the stay is continued.
n The Capital Investment bill was signed into law because it will quickly begin creating 3,000 jobs. The bill funded $26 million for Intercity Passenger Rail projects including High Speed rail to Chicago, and $21 million for transit capital improvements including the Red Rock Corridor and the Central Corridor. These state dollars will leverage huge amounts of federal dollars and move the projects along.
n The Legacy bill will make available hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax proceeds for improving hunting and fishing areas, water quality, parks and trails, and arts and history in Minnesota. The funds come from a constitutional amendment voters approved last November.
We finished our work on time and passed a balanced budget. The governor has chosen to go it alone and make budget cuts using unallotment powers. I will keep you updated on the governor's decisions as further cuts are made.
If there are any questions, please contact me at (651) 296-4342, by mail at 353 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or via e-mail at rep.Karla.Bigham@house.mn.
Rep. Karla Bigham represents District 57A in the Minnesota House of Representatives.