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Groups Fear Vulnerable Residents Will be Harmed by MN's Budget Nosedive

After the pandemic took hold, Minnesota saw a nearly $4 billion swing from positive territory to negative territory in its state budget. (Adobe Stock)
After the pandemic took hold, Minnesota saw a nearly $4 billion swing from positive territory to negative territory in its state budget. (Adobe Stock)
May 7, 2020

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- In the span of two months, Minnesota's budget has taken a pandemic-driven turn off of a cliff.

And that prompts fears about how a large deficit will impact social programs and residents in need.

Earlier this year, Minnesota had a $1.5 billion surplus. But the COVID-19 crisis wiped it away with a lot of force. There's now a projected deficit of $2.4 billion.

Getinet Alemu, a small business owner in Richfield, worries state leaders will end up cutting vital social programs, creating a ripple effect across Minnesota.

"Minnesota is a collective community, and I feel like when a program is cut from people that's using it, it affects all of us," he states.

While he says the budget pain should be a shared sacrifice, Alemu adds that the state should look at taxing higher income earners to plug any holes.

This week, a coalition of advocacy groups and unions made a similar plea, saying lower-income residents shouldn't bear the brunt of the budget fix.

State lawmakers from both parties say it might be too early to finalize a list of specific ideas.

But Rep. Pat Garofalo says the state can't deficit spend like the federal government can, while noting that whatever painful decisions are made, nobody will like them.

Garofalo, the Republican lead on the House Ways and Means Committee, says the state should make only limited use of its rainy day fund, and that cuts should represent 50% of the solution.

"We have to adjust the mindset of government to recognize that at the same time we're going to be doing a greater focus on critical things, other functions of government, we're just going to have to temporarily suspend those activities," he states.

DFL Rep. Liz Olson of Duluth, vice chair of the Ways and Means Committee, says past administrations have made cuts that have harmed state residents. She says the long-term effect of those cuts have surfaced during the crisis.

"It really hurt the people you're most trying to help in a moment of crisis like this," she states. "So before we go straight to that cuts approach, I think we need to think about where are spots that we maybe are doing well and how do we use the reserves smartly and how do we think about not just what the impact will be right now on this budget, but our budgets in the future."

Gov. Tim Walz, a fellow Democrat, suggests that all scenarios should be considered, including possible layoffs and furloughs of state workers.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN