Before Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor and Republican spin doctors travel to the state's hinterlands to explain what happened in the 2003 legislative session and why the bad aspects were the other guys' fault, let's take a big picture look at the belt tightening.
As painful as the state's budget crisis has been and is going to continue to be, there are healthy aspects to the process Minnesota has just gone through. Tough times force government to examine and reevaluate its programs and delivery systems. The question: "Could we be doing this better?" was rarely heard when state surpluses were abundant and the government was mailing rebate checks back to its citizens. It should be a mantra in today's state agencies.
Minnesota Finance Commissioner Dan McElroy, who previously labored as a suburban legislator, makes a good case that the Minnesota's economic doldrums are caused by more than just the sluggish national economy. There are concrete reasons why Minnesota needs to cut its expenditures and make sure that when it does spend money that it's spent wisely. One reason, McElroy, pointed out in a Star Tribune column, is that Minnesota is aging. A growing segment of Minnesota's population is going to be generating less tax revenue and requiring more government help. That's a combination that doesn't bode well for the state's economic future.
The state's aging population and its propensity to spend money have been on a collision course for some time. One could argue the legislators needed the shock of a gigantic budget deficit to curb their spending habits.
McElroy and Gov. Tim Pawlenty's other lieutenants have been pushing ideas that need to be considered such as restructuring government to maximize efficiency and not expecting the state to provide services that can be performed more efficiently by the private sector.
The North Star state isn't the only political entity that is trying to dig its way out of budget messes without raising taxes. Michigan and Wisconsin are in the same boat.
This newspaper has criticized the rigid no-new-tax stance in this space before, on the basis that it has handcuffed lawmakers from raising user fees that could justifiably be raised. By the same token, there's no question some drastic action was needed to rein in the state's spending habits and rethink how government can best serve the citizens.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.