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Trimming fat good, but don't cut too far

People who know me well know I enjoy cutting up my deer meat each year and trimming fat is good for your health, eh? But deer is lean meat and if you aren't careful you may end up making burger out of good steak meat.

I see an analogy to trying to trim our state budget -- the initial cuts trim fat that you barely miss, but subsequent cuts go deeper and deeper, until you find you have cut right to the bone. Cuts this deep can leave serious government responsibilities unmet, to the point of bridges falling down and Minnesotans losing their lives.

I will work hard to see that state budget cuts done on my watch do not contribute to such tragedies.

Since 2002, our state has faced a budget deficit in every year but two. The approach each time has been to cut, shift or delay state payments for services we depend on -- such as early childhood education, K-12 schools, higher education, hospital and nursing home payments, and aid to local governments.

Schools have cut teachers and eliminated programs, nursing homes have closed, hospitals are financially challenged, and cities and counties have been forced to cut services. And, we're all paying more for less -- property taxes have increased by $3.2 billion since 2002, health care costs have skyrocketed, parents pay more out of pocket expenses for their children's education and college tuition has more than doubled.

In one way or another, every one of us is feeling the pain of ongoing budget deficits. It is clear to me that we need a long-term budget balancing plan that is fair for all taxpayers in order to get our state off this deficit roller coaster.

One of the best ways to do that is to create jobs. The state economic forecast in early December revealed that 70 percent of the loss in revenue is from declining income taxes collected. In addition, several national studies indicate every time a Minnesotan loses his or her job, it costs the taxpayers about $10,000. Before we can walk firmly on the path to economic recovery, new jobs must be created for Minnesotans.

In this bonding session, the Minnesota House is planning an effective way to put people to work and jump-start our economy -- a bonding bill full of needed projects. A $1 billion bonding bill can create as many as 10,000 jobs for Minnesotans, increasing our tax base and boosting our local economies. A bonding bill also brings the added advantage of improving local assets and strengthening our infrastructure.

I have proposed several projects for our area, including the Highway 197 trail bridge, project design for the Headwater Science Center, remodeling work at Bemidji State University, Beltrami County jail renovation, and improvements at the Leech Lake Tribal College. While I understand the competition for funding will be tough, I remain hopeful some, if not all, of these proposals will make the final list.

Resolving our budget shortfall will be a significant challenge this session. The House finance divisions are already meeting to consider what cuts can be made to their budgets. The governor will release his budget proposal by the beginning of session.

Reaching agreement on the state budget will without a doubt be difficult, and I know others share my hope for collaboration and compromise. I'm not saying we won't make cuts, but if you ask schools, hospitals, nursing homes and local governments, they'll tell you their fat has been trimmed by years of cuts and underfunding -- and now they find the knife poised at the bone.

The choices we make over the next few months could change the face of our state for years to come; now, more than ever, we must come together and work toward a common goal of bringing economic stability back to our state, and improving the lives of all Minnesotans.

John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, is a member of the Minnesota House.