Sen. Don Samuelson remembers having to face his constituents in 1981 and telling them their taxes would be raised and state programs would be cut back to make up a state budget deficit.
It was a message that Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd, didn't enjoy giving. He said today he wouldn't be surprised if he has to give it again in 2002.
Gov. Jesse Ventura's administration on Tuesday projected a $1.95 billion deficit for the current state budget cycle, a shortfall that's nearly twice as bad as political leaders were expecting.
"I think most of us anticipated about a $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion (shortfall), and it's $500 million-$800 million more," said Samuelson. "Some of us thought last March there would be a deficit and we were trying to be very cautious in the Senate with our actions.
"This is much larger than anyone anticipated."
Samuelson, along with other Senate and House leaders, is going to meet with Ventura to weigh the state's options, such as the possibility of a special session, though Samuelson said he doesn't see what good a special session would do without a plan in place to take quick action.
How the state budget fell into deficit is debatable. Some have pointed to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the subsequent downturn of the nation's economy. While Samuelson said the terrorist attacks have accelerated the deficit, there were signs of a slowing economy in January.
"Some economists were trying to tell us the economy was slowing down, but obviously the House and the governor just wouldn't believe it," said Samuelson, referring to the $800 million rebate given out this year, which he believes, with the state's reserves, would've covered this deficit.
It also didn't help that the state picked up 100 percent of the general levy for education, said Samuelson, because any cuts made to help shore up the deficit could hurt school funding, requiring school districts to levy for more money.
Education is just one place where the state could look to cut funding. Ventura has already frozen government grants to non-profit organizations.
There is also a possibility of raising taxes. While Samuelson said it would be the last thing done to reduce the deficit, it wouldn't be ruled out as a possibility.
There will be another economic forecast in February, and Samuelson said that will be used to make a final decision on how to correct the deficit.
"The economists I've talked to don't think the economy will make a turn around until the end of next year," said Samuelson. "We're looking at three quarters of downturn."
Samuelson paid a visit to the Brainerd City Council Monday to discuss the January legislative session. He said today that when he told the council he expected to see a $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion deficit, he was shooting high. "It makes you a little nervous," he said.
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