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Pioneer Editorial: Can't make budget fix piecemeal

The Minnesota House passed its first budget bill on Thursday, slashing $1 billion from state spending. The Minnesota Senate is expected to pass its own $1 billion -cut bill this week, sending the issue to conference committee. But, as it stands, it most certainly will be vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton, and rightly so.

The state faces a $6.2 billion budget shortfall in the next biennium, and lawmakers need to work immediately on solving that problem. But it is a problem in total, not one that will be solved in a piecemeal fashion.

The House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, hurried through their bills with little or no vetting. The House bill calls for $200 million to be cut from state agency budgets from now to the end of June, a time when the state's two-year budget is nearly over and remaining funds are committed. The Republican philosophy that state agencies spend up their unreserved funds at the end of a biennium in order to not get cut in the next budget cycle may have been the practice when coffers were flush. But with years of continuing budget shortfalls and ongoing unallotment of funds, state agency cupboards are bare.

The Republicans also don't like pots of money hanging around, so the bill cuts Local Government Aid to cities by $478 million over two years. But that money is important to cities with low property base, such as Bemidji, which would severely affect local services if cut. LGA also holds the line on property taxes; with a cut of that magnitude, property taxes would need double-digit increases to keep pace.

It comes as no surprise that no DFL House members voted for the bill, which passed 68-63. Four Republicans voted against the bill, three of which come from rural cities which would be affected with further LGA cuts.

The bill also makes deep cuts to higher education and affects several veterans programs.

Such a piecemeal approach is wrong, and doesn't provide a measure of fairness as the impact of solving a $6.2 billion budget deficit unfolds. Does cutting $487 million from LGA mean that area of the budget is done? Or will lawmakers be back in later budget bills to cut more from LGA. Similarly, the same argument of state agency budgets. With $200 million gone, is that it?

No, that's not the way to do a good budget that is balanced and based on priorities determined after plenty of public input.

The GOP needs to consider Gov. Dayton's budget, due out in mid-February, hold plenty of hearings and make the effort to seek bipartisan support for any budget solution.