Live-blogging: The budget cutting bill

The Minnesota House is debating HF130, the first budget-related bill to get a significant floor debate this session. The bill cuts $181 million in spending in the current biennium and reduce the state’s next two-year budget by $819 million. The bill would extend temporary budget cuts that were passed during last year’s first special session.

The bill will most certainly pass the Republican-controlled House, but the session gives us the first glimpse into the type of debate we’ll be seeing this year on bills like this, which the DFL is fairly powerless to stop.

3:09 p.m. – Lawmakers are considering rules changes for the session. This could take a bit. There’s already an amendment to strike a rule setting a time limit for floor debate.

3:25 p.m. – An amendment to the rules proposal would ban contributions from corporations during the legislative session. But Rep. Matt Dean said. “it’s currently illegal to take contributions from corporations.” Dean deftly counters by adding “and labor unions” to Rep. Jim Davnie’s amendment. The amendment passed unanimously.

3:29 p.m. DFLer Ryan Winkler proposed a rule that during an even-numbered year, if the most recent forecast of state revenues and expenditures predicts a deficit for the biennium ending on June 30 of the next odd-numbered year, a House or Senate bill that proposes a constitutional amendment must not be considered on the calendar for the day, the fiscal calendar, or any other floor calendar until bills necessary to eliminate that projected deficit have been enacted into law.”

No doubt, this is a response to the plethora of GOP-backed constitutional amendment proposals this session. As such, it’s likely dead on arrival.

3:35 p.m. – “So far, only the minority party has been the one to bring up divisive social issues as constitutional amendments on the House floor,” Dean said.

3:36 p.m. – Another amendment has just been thrown in the hopper. Rep. Debra Hilstrom’s proposed rule would require bills be public for three days before any action is taken on them.

3:47 p.m. – Rep. Winkler’s amendment dies.

3:54 p.m. – Rep. Hilstrom’s amendment is sent off to a committee.

3:57 p.m. – The House now moves to the main event.

Rep. Mary Liz Holberg: “We are holding flat spending in higher education. We ask the administration to cut $220 million, a freeze on state worker pay, and there are spending reductions in health and human services that match the special session HF1 (unallotment). Local government aid at 2010 levels.”

4:00 p.m. Rep. Diane Loeffler ” These include risky and dangerous cuts. This bill makes major permanent reduction in child and community services grants, the only funding we provide to counties to support child protection reporting and response that kids throughout our state count on.”

4:03 p.m. – Rep. Debra Hilstrom: Says the legislature agreed to cutbacks last year because they knew stimulus money would replace it. That’s not the case this year. Calls it a “slash and burn approach.”

4:05 p.m. – Rep. Jim Abeler: ” I have medium-sized businesses afraid to hire. I have constituents whose long-term plan is to keep the house to next year. Because of that and because of the actions that were done last year, I think it’s a good idea to move forward today and to show we’re engaged and trying to make a difference so they can have some hope…” Says there’s no change in the funding, it just carries forward previous funding levels.

4:09 p.m. - Rep. Keith Downey: “The biggest failure is we haven’t restructured what we’re doing to make it sustainable in the future. I’d hoped stimulus would lift the economy, but it’s not happening. The good news is we do have a 5-percent increase in new revenues coming, but we have a 24% increase projected in our spending.”

4:11 p.m. Rep. Steve Gottwalt: “We’ve been making promises we can’t keep with money we do not have.” Says for the next biennium, the state will have another $2 billion to spend — 6% increase in revenues. Says his constituents have had to cut budgets. “A cut in their terms means less money spent this year than last year. Only in the Legislature could we define a cut as a smaller increase.”

4:16 p.m. – Rep. Jeff Hayden (Mpls) “We haven’t had a good conversation with service providers about how they’re going to handle these cuts. It’s easy to say last year’s cuts are this year’s cuts. They’re not. This is money we give to counties to investigate child protection. That’s a statewide issue. We know as the economy changes, these cases are on the rise. We’re seeing cuts to general assistance. A lot of this money goes to women who have been battered. That’s not a south Minneapolis issue, or a north Minneapolis issue; that’s an issue we’re facing all across this state.”

4:19 p.m. – Rep. Paul Marquart: “This bill creates up to over $300 million of new property tax increases.”

4:27 p.m. – Rep. Jenifer Loon (Eden Prairie) – “If anyone thinks they’re going to be able to balance the budget without making cuts, they’re not living in reality. They’ll have to make adjustments.”

4:35 p.m. – Rep. Kory Kath: “There are areas of the flood relief package that are in jeopardy. ”

4:37 p.m. – Rep. Tom Rukavina: “It’s not often I get to vote against a bill that’s opposed by my Chamber of Commerce… MnSCU is getting $23 million less… they’re real dollars. What are we doing to our students? When I came here 25 years ago, it was a little over 15% of our general fund dollars went to higher education. It’s what made our state great. With this, it’s bad enough that it went to 8% when I was chairing the committee. We had 7 deficits in Gov. Pawlenty’s 8 years.”

“The other side is concerned about the debt. What about the debt we’re saddling our children with because of tuition?”

“Why are you attacking the middle class? Why do you go after unions? The unions gave us middle class America.”

4:47 p.m. – Rep. Linda Runbeck: “In the recession we just came out of, Minnesota lost 162,000 private sector jobs. Government did not lose any. That does not send a good message about Minnesota. That doesn’t do anything for your community or my community. Do we really believe government should be a sacred cow? This bill says, ‘live within your means.’”

4:50 p.m. – Rep. Mark Buesgens: “State government is growing at 5 percent and 5 percent should be enough.”

4:53 p.m. – Rep. Larry Hosch: “How many of you sat at forums and said you were going to cut students’ financial aid. How many said you were going to cut child protection? How many sent out mailers that you would cut veterans’ services?”

4:56 p.m. – Rep. Frank Hornstein : ” We don’t touch overseas corporate tax loopholes, and people hiding tax havens in the Caribbean. Let’s go after those sacred cows. There are people at the top who continue to enjoy tax breaks and tax loopholes at the middle class’ expense.”

4:59 p.m. – Rep. Bob Gunther: “There are three businesses in my district working only 30 hours and they’re happy to have those 30 hours. They’re going to resent state workers.”

5:04 p.m. Rep. Rukavina: “The 50 wealthiest Minnesotans in 2003, the poorest adjusted was $12 million. In 2008, their combined income is $2.4 billion. They got $1 billion more in five years. You don’t want us to tax them because they create jobs. Gov. Pawlenty created 1,000 jobs in eight years.

5:05 p.m. – Rep. Gregory Davids: “If someone made a billion dollars, I’d say ‘congratulations, you had a great year, now make more so we can tax you more.’ Nobody’s getting less. Show me in the bill that says we’re cutting military or veterans affairs? It doesn’t say that in the bill.”

5:09 p.m. – Rep. Holberg: “We’ve heard this is a piecemeal approach. The only way to eat a hippo is a piece at a time. We’ve got a big problem in front of us. Starting to work on it now makes sense. ”

5:14 p.m. – Rep. Paul Thissen “(The bill) tightens the squeeze on middle-class residents…. This proposal asks the same people who have been bearing the burden of balancing the budget, to bear the burden of balancing the budget while other people get off. We’re not authorized to play budget whack-a-mole… There’s no prioritization regardless of the rhetoric on the Republican side of the aisle… you’re breaking the promise that you made to your constituents… this will mean local communities will lose and property taxes will go up.”

5:25 p.m. Rep. Matt Dean: “When we’re going from a $30 billion budget to a $32 billion budget, we need to prioritize.”

VOTE: YES: 68 NO: 63

Several Republicans broke ranks with leadership on the bill.

Rep. Rich Murray — a Republican — changed his vote to “no.” Rep. Thissen claimed he did so because “he was now concerned about LGA cuts. That brought a rebuke from Speaker Kurt Zellers about questioning the integrity of members.

I’ll post the roll call in a few minutes Here’s the roll call vote.

  • GregS

    It will be helpful in these discussion to distinguish between actual cuts – less money than appropriated last tern and reductions on projections – less money than an agency claims they need.

    So for instance:

    - Agency A had a budget of $1 and the proposed budget is $1 (no cut has been made).

    - Agency B claims that due to rising cost they need $1.10 and are given $1 (no cut has been made).

    - Agency C was budgeted $1 last fiscal year and is budgeted $.90 for this fiscal year (a cut has been made).

    Now, assuming an Agency actually loses funds, the next question is what programs are cut?

    We would hope the agency does not cut critical services as a ploy to protect it’s less critical budget – you know the old police and fire first routine….

  • MR

    “5.3 Sec. 2. FISCAL YEAR 2011 REDUCTIONS.

    By March 31, 2011, the commissioner of management and budget must allocate reduction of $199,236,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, to general fund appropriations made to executive branch agencies”

    It seems like this is an actual cut. And if you look at the bill text, the reductions are in fairly specific grant programs. (Children and Community Service grants, Emergency General Assistance grants, etc) It doesn’t look like this is a case of crying “Oh, the poor children” when there are other programs that could also be cut.

  • Bob Collins

    The question comes down to whether the lack of stimulus funds as well as the permanence of the previous funding, constitutes a cut.

  • bj

    @MR – cut what first? Name replacements, 10 other groups will jump up and say ‘not me’.

    We voted and the people we elected (even though not one of my vote getters is in office) are picking the things they think we care the least about.

  • Bob Collins

    // are picking the things they think we care the least about.

    That brings up an interesting discussion. How do we decide what our priorities are.

    Take child protection for example. Most people don’t beat their kids. Most people aren’t going to be beaten kids Most people — probably — don’t want kids to be beaten. But is that on our list of things we care least about?

    By picking things we care least about, doesn’t that make each cut the one that’s least likely to stir the political waters?

    It goes back to an old question I’ve asked ever since the old MPR Forum. What do you want Minnesota to look like 5, 10, 15 years from now? What’s the roadmap to get there?

    I also think it’s past time to have a discussion in which we all — workers, businesses etc — discuss why we’re still here at all.

    Or maybe we should start small and just discuss what constitutes “our most vulnerable citizens” since everyone seems to agree they should be protected.

  • kwatt

    MR,

    You’re mixing two separate parts of the bill. The $199… number is a cut to current spending, but it does not specify the programs you list later. Those are part of the areas that would be kept at current levels under HF 130.

    Bob,

    You must have swift fingers.

  • Jamie

    Why we’re still where, Bob?

    Minnesota (and the U.S) is apparently comprised of people who mostly “belong” to one of two world views: the “I-got-mine-you’re-on-your own” group who vote for Republicans who won’t even make the rich pay their fair share, let alone a little more to strengthen the state and help the woman who’s done everything she can to get a job but who is going to be homeless in a couple weeks without Emergency General Assistance. This group apparently believes that some people (poor people, disabled or elderly people, etc.) are simply expendable (some people WILL DIE because of these cuts — these cuts on top of cuts that have already occurred).

    And then there’s the group who vote for Democrats. Democrats who are demonized and lied about by Republicans in order to keep them out of public office. Democrats who just want to make sure there’s a safety net for that woman and for others who have no other options — for people who do everything right, who work hard but still need some assistance.

    This other group knows that it does NOT create more jobs when we tax the rich less; that it just puts more millions and billions in their bank accounts. Rich people are doing just fine in this recession. They could afford to patch the whole deficit.

    There is no compromise for these two world views. I don’t know what we’re going to do.

  • Jim Shapiro

    The Republicans who voted NO should be commended for their integrity. For having a heart. For having a soul.

  • GregS

    Question: When did spending money become a proxy for compassion?

    Answer: When the money landed in the pockets of DFL allies.

    Every biennium, it is the same old, same old. The DFL and progressive demand more and more in the name of compassion, even in times of recession.

    We need to stop talking about “how much” and begin talking about efficacy and priority. We spend way too much money on the uncontrolled cost of healthcare and education.

    Case in point, why does it cost the same to educate an art student as an engineer?

    Why does it cost $18,000 a year to send a child to public school in Minneapolis?

    Why does the Minneapolis Public Schools have a staff of 6,000 and only 3,000 teachers?

    Why can civil servants retire after 30 years?

    How did a program like LGA that was designed to finance things like sewage plants in small towns with aging populations become a political slush fund for urban liberals?

    Folks, we are on a long slow glide into a less affluent future, one that will be challenged by the rising demands for senior care.

    There is no more – more, only a better use of what we have.

  • Bob Collins

    Let’s stay focused on what’s in this bill, please. In this case, what is the desired outcome for the main areas it addresses. We keep hearing talk about reform. How, for example, should the child protection system work in Minnesota. How should it be funded? How much does the desired outcome cost?

    Higher ed: What do we expect of, say, MnSCU schools (everyone always talks about the U of M, but let’s talk about the state colleges and community colleges). Should we have fewer of them? How many fewer? Should private business help fund them, since many of them are funneling employees into a particular company , especially outstate?

    State workers: How does a freeze fit into collective bargaining? What state workers can we do without? Should parts of state government be privatized? What parts?

    Let’s try to focus on productive ideas rather than the same old campaign speeches on both sides.

  • GregS

    “What do you want Minnesota to look like 5, 10, 15 years from now? – Bob Collins”

    Let’s limit the scope to what government in the state should look like.

    1) We need more public consortiums like LOGIS. There is not logical reason why Edina, Eden Prairie and Hopkins each need unique building codes and inspection departments. There is no reason why each unit of govenment should they have their own IT departments. These functions should be consolidated by county and region.

    2) Bloomington and Eagan have volunteer fire departments, why can’t Minnespolis and Saint Paul do the same? Sure, they could have a core of professionals, but volunteers could effectively service the neighborhoods just like they do in Woodbury and Wilmar.

    3) Schools need to focus on quality instead of funding. Because the focus is on the wrong things, we have expensive schools in Minnesota not good schools.

    4) Rethink college education from top to bottom. Why does it cost $80,000 to get an Art History degree? Why do we produce so many English, Social Science and Geography majors? If we need to educate people in communications, social work, literature and art, why not beef up community ed and do it for a penny on the dollar?

    5) Why should an administrative assistant working for the state enjoy vastly superior retirement, health and vacation benefits to that of an administrative assistant working in the private sector?

    6) Why do we keep talking about taxing the wealthy when half of all investment income is non-taxable because it is held by pension funds and charitable trusts. We need to rethink our tax policies and reconsider taxing pensions and trusts at least at a nominal rate.

  • Jane

    State worker on her lunch break here, answering Bob’s questions.

    We’ve had a wage freeze for 3 of the last 4 years, if I’m remembering correctly. I don’t mind if we have a wage freeze for the next 2 years, if we can save some jobs by doing so. If we really need another freeze for 2013-14 and it’ll save a few jobs, that’s fine too. I don’t make very much money, but I’m scraping by. I could pay a LITTLE higher health insurance deductible and co-pay, too.

    Right now, there aren’t very many state workers that we can do without — the real worker-bees, that is. There are way too many management and executive-level employees in state government, though. A couple years ago I worked at a state agency that had to lay me off (low seniority). I was part of a work group of 4 who were doing the work of 5 workers. When I left, there were 3 doing the work of 5. I’ve heard about that kind of thing existing in many state agencies.

    There have already been many layoffs in the last decade, though not many of those have been from the ranks of management. I know there have been many hirings, too. But that is to be expected with a growing population and growing needs of the people. There have also been efforts for the last 20 years (or more, I suspect) to make things more efficient. If that were done on a grander scale, we would probably find some ways to save more money. But that takes time.

    I don’t support ANY parts of state government being privatized. For one thing, privatizing doesn’t necessarily save money. I heard about some research on this a few years ago that said as much. For another thing, what happens with workers when an operation is privatized is that they get a lot lower pay and fewer benefits, if they still have a job at all. And nobody should be profiting from services the state should provide. And the citizens of MN could actually end up paying more for those services.

    Most state workers get decent pay and benefits (we pay for half of our retirement benefits, by the way, and I actually had better retirement plans and insurance with two private sector employers). We get these things through collective bargaining. If private sector employees want to form or join unions, they could get these things too. We should not be condemned for getting paid what we are worth (or closer to our worth).

    To GregS: An admin asst working for the State doesn’t necessarily get vastly superior pay and benefits than a private sector admin asst. As I said above, I’ve had better benefits (and similar pay) at two private sector employers. Many state employees earn a lot less than their private sector counterparts.

    Back to work…

  • GregS

    Jane,

    I know of nowhere in the private sector where an administrative assistant can retire at age 48 and receive a defined benefits pension that includes cost of living increases. Yet I know many people at the City of Minneapolis and State who did precisely this, then went to work for the county and collected another pension.

    I also know of no private sector employers who offer as many holidays as does the public sector. While there might be individuals working in the public sector who take home less every week than their private sector counterparts, I doubt that when their entire package is taken into account that they still receive less.

    Neither do I buy that public sector benefits are the result of collective bargaining, rather they are the result of buying off the DFL with gobs of union money that is repaid with everyone else’s taxes.

    In short, the unions buy the DFL and the DFL buys constituency.

  • Jane

    You are wrong, GregS, on so many points. I have time to address just a couple: “The Rule of 90″ hasn’t existed since 1989. That was what it was called when someone could retire if their years of service and their age totalled 90 — or something like that. And I don’t think it was possible for someone who started working for the state at age 18 to retire at age 48 with a full pension (or even a partial one!).

    Just because you don’t know of any private sector employers who offer more holidays doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I have had as many and more holidays at other jobs, my vacation plans have always been almost exactly the same, and my health insurance has always been about the same, too, except for one crummy job where they thought paying people $10 per hour and offering a catastrophic health plan with a big premium was being very generous (those are the kind of employers that privatizing would turn into, incidentally). I didn’t stay there very long.

    Union money legally contributed to political campaigns, if that’s what you’re referring to, has nothing to do with union contract negotiations. I don’t know what other “buying off” you could be talking about (and don’t get me started on how Republicans are bought off by corporate and other fat-cat money!). Our taxes pay for needed services, and even before I was a state employee, I thought it was the right thing to do to pay public/civil servants decent salaries.

    One of the things that bothers me the most when I hear Republicans trashing public sector workers is the fact that many Republicans take public sector jobs. Are they immune from the criticisms?

  • GregS

    From the Minnesota State Retirement System (MSRS) website, “Most employees can begin collecting reduced monthly benefits at age 55 or later. Some employees who were first hired before July 1, 1989, can retire at any age with 30 or more years of service. .”

    Employees who began with the state directly out of high school prior to 1989 can still retire as early as age 48. This is because the reforms of 1989 were not retroactive.

    We will not see budget impacts of the 1989 pension reforms for another 10 years.

    It is a tough sell to convince anyone in the private sector that the public sector has a less generous holiday schedule. Good luck with that.

    Your assertion that union political contributions are not reflected at the bargaining table is astonishing naïve.

    Yes Jane, many Republicans are civil servants and proud of it. However, unlike all too many of their DFL counterparts they are more devoted to serving the public than feathering their nest.

  • Jane

    How dare you say that Republican civil servants are “more devoted to serving the public” than Democratic civil servants!! And how arrogant and just WRONG!! That statement is based on nothing but your arrogance and ignorance. The public sector workers I’ve known all my life and worked with in state government are mostly Democrats and are the most dedicated, hard-working people one could ever find in any workplace — and are not interested in just “feathering their nest” [sic]. Meanwhile, the most recent examples we have of a wave of Republican civil servants are all the many, many highly paid appointed friends of Tim Pawlenty in unnecessary executive-level and other jobs. WHO is feathering their nests? And even as these unnecessary Republican state employees suck huge amounts of money from taxpayers, they trash government workers and try to get rid of as many as they can, except for their own jobs of course. And look at the ranks of Bush-era federal appointees and cronies — more unnecessary jobs done by incompetent, corrupt people who were not even qualified to fill them.