Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Emmer Goes All In

Today Tom Emmer released the final part of his budget proposal. I've been wondering for some time now about previous claims he's made to cut anywhere from 10-20% of state spending without doing major damage to programs that many people hold dear such as education and health & human services. Today I got my answer. He's not. He's deemed himself the "only straight talking candidate" and today that straight talk included straight up telling people that if he is elected, they will see major funding cuts in higher education (-$300M), local government aid (-$550M), and state agencies (-$550M) as well as big reduction in the amount of growth allowed in health and human services.

I'm not going to lie. It took me awhile to pick my jaw up off the floor upon seeing his plan. Even though the numbers are there, it is still lacking in specifics as to how exactly he is going to reach those numbers. And as the saying goes, "the devil is in the details."

Although he promises to hold K-12 education funding "harmless" by providing them the same amount of money they are currently getting, I don't know if doing so would really qualify as harmless. Schools are currently faced with underfunded mandates as well as increasing costs for transportation, maintenance, etc. It's questionable to say that failing to keep up with the cost of inflation is harmless. Also, some schools have had to borrow funds to make up for the funding shift they experienced last session. Emmer won't begin to pay that back until 2014.

Higher Education
 The funding for higher education will decrease by $300 million under Emmer's plan. He says they will focus on redesigning and reforming the system but gives no specifics to what those reforms will be. Based on previous claims he made, one option may be making some community college locations industry specific (i.e. a nursing school, a teaching school, etc.) but I don't know what else he would include.

Health and Human Services
The amount of allowed growth is greatly reduced. (Will that mean enrollment caps?) He will "refocus spending" (aka take it from other programs) to nursing homes and children's mental health. He promises to redesign GAMC and Minnesota Care and ultimately find private market alternatives for those programs. (I wonder how this will work because many people on these programs are not eligible for others and most cannot afford current private market options.)

Local Government Aid
LGA will see a $550M reduction in funding and what it does get will be solely for public safety and infrastructure. (Many believe the natural result of such drastic cuts will be rising property taxes since small rural cities have few other options to try to recoup such losses.) There is a mention of reforms to lessen the burden these communities have from the state government but again offers no specifics as to what those reforms would be.

State Agencies and Spending
One more area that will see a $550M reduction in funding. The plan says "An Emmer administration will focus on reorganizing bureaucracies and programs which are not fundamental to state government’s mission; merging agencies to streamline decision making and reduce costs; reduce the government workforce through attrition and early-retirement." Loosely translated, he will merge departments, eliminate departments, and get rid of state employees by declining to replace those that leave and pushing others into early retirement.

Bonding Bills
Bonding bills will be only for critical issues like floods or infrastructure.

It's hard to say exactly what some of these cuts will look like until he releases further details on exactly what programs will be affected in some of these areas (other than to say they will be extremely painful for many Minnesotans.) But looking at this my first impression is that for a candidate that is promising a "new direction" it certainly looks to me like he is following Gov. Pawlenty's lead of preventing any potential tax hikes on the wealthy by eliminating funds from programs that serve mainly the poor, middle class, and sick in our state.

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