Is Minnesota surplus a harbinger for other states’ finances?

MORNING EDITION

Minnesota out front? Sarah Kliff at The Washington Post looks at our budget surplus news and writes: “Minnesota has … cut its spending, particularly on health care, in unique ways. It’s one of just four states, for example, to expand its Medicaid program in advance of the health reform law’s required expansion. For doing so, it’s received a higher Medicaid matching rate for some patients from the federal government. … But this isn’t exactly a Minnesota miracle: Most states are expecting a rosier financial outlook in the coming year. The state’s news could well be a harbinger of things to come from other states. Two big reports, just within the past week, find state budget pressures to have lessened in the past year. In a report today, the National Conference of State Legislatures finds that state revenues are ‘stabilized or are growing’ across the country, with an average 1.9 percent increase in state revenue expected in 2012.”

At the Strib, Baird Helgeson and Jim Ragsdale reiterate that while black is better than red, rules prevent legislators from doing what they want with the surplus: “[T]he new money barely dents the state’s battered finances. State law dictates the surplus go to refill the state’s cash flow account and tapped-out budget reserves. None of it will be used to repay public schools the more than $2 billion they are owed. It will take years of strong budget forecasts before rating agencies restore the state’s tarnished credit. Thursday’s surplus projection was accompanied by a less welcome prediction: A $1.3 billion deficit for 2014-15, and a greater than normal chance of recession in 2012.” Sheesh, couldn’t we have one day before killing the buzz?

On its editorial page, the Strib advises restraint on big ideas for the dough: “Minnesotans shouldn’t think that Thursday’s forecasted balance is available for tax cuts or pet projects. The entire amount is already spoken for in state law. It goes to replenish a cash flow account and reserve fund that were depleted several years ago, when the state’s latest fiscal woes set in. Even when fully funded, those two cushions against financial shocks are meager for a state budget as large as Minnesota’s. They deserve first claim on a positive general-fund balance because they are stabilizers if and when economic turbulence recurs. They stave off government moves that would make bad situations worse.” Protecting St. Paul from itself. It’s a full-time job.

On the $3 million settlement of the suit involving 300 former patients of a Cambridge mental facility and the state, Sasha Aslanian of MPR reports: “Family members of three patients first raised concerns in 2007. The state ombudsman launched a year-long investigation that found ‘People were being routinely restrained in a prone face down position and placed in metal handcuffs and leg hobbles.’ Lorie Jensen of Little Canada is the mother of Bradley Jensen, the lead plaintiff in the case. In 2007, her autistic son was committed to META when he was 18. Jensen became worried when she noticed marks and bruises around her son’s wrists. She struggled to understand what was happening, and found META staff evasive, then combative. ‘When it was revealed to me the horror of what they were doing to him, I was the first one to report,’ Jensen said. She then went to The Arc of Minnesota which advocates on behalf of people with disabilities. The Arc’s Brad Hansen told the courtroom today that Bradley Jensen was restrained 251 times. He now lives in a group home in Maple Grove.

A new state trail out in Washington County is expected to be popular immediately upon opening next year. Kevin Giles at the Strib says: “A major new state trail planned for Washington County will open next year to instant popularity, funneling thousands of cyclists, runners, walkers and horse riders to the St. Croix River. That’s the vision in a draft master plan for Browns Creek State Trail, made public Thursday, that foresees the 5.9-mile corridor as a strategic link to trails up and down the river from Stillwater and possibly across the river into Wisconsin. In recent decades, most people saw the forested route from the windows of the Minnesota Zephyr dinner train, which ran from Stillwater to the rural city of Grant for 23 years until it ceased operations on New Year’s Eve in 2008. This summer, the Legislature approved $3.2 million in state funding to buy the corridor.”

While you can carry a gun into the Wisconsin state Capitol, helium balloons are now banned. Scott Bauer of the AP reports: “The state can bill organizers of protests at the Capitol for the cost of police protection and any damage to the building, according to a new policy released Thursday in the wake of massive labor demonstrations that erupted over anti-union legislation earlier this year. The new policy affecting the Capitol and state buildings released by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration is effective immediately. It also restricts what protesters can bring inside buildings, barring such items as helium-filled balloons. The change comes after protests opposing legislation effectively ending collective bargaining rights for public workers resulted in about $8 million in costs for police protection. The rallies grew as large as 100,000 people and smaller rallies, including a daily noontime sing-a-long of protest songs, have continued. Under the new policy, labor unions, teachers and other organizers of those protests could have been held liable for those costs. The policy says Capitol Police costs will be $50 an hour, but the cost of other law enforcement agencies will vary.”

A San Diego woman has pleaded guilty to aiding Minnesotans in their activities with al-Shabab. From California the AP’s Julie Watson reports: “Prosecutors have said Nima Yusuf conspired in Southern California and elsewhere to aid al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked militia trying to create an Islamic state in Somalia. As part of her plea, the 25-year-old permanent resident of the U.S. acknowledged that she agreed to help the men with money and personnel. Over the past three years, Minnesota has been the center of a federal investigation into the recruitment of people from the U.S. to train or fight with al-Shabab in Somalia, which hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991. Twenty people have been charged in the state in connection with the travelers and alleged terror financing.”

This reminds me. I gotta bring the hoses in. Andy Rathbun at the PiPress says: “The lack of rain and snow this autumn is one for the record books. Over meteorological autumn — September through November only 1.36 inches of precipitation fell at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. That’s the least on record, beating out the 1.54 inches that fell in 1889, according to the Minnesota Climatology Working Group. Since 1871, this is one of only three years with less than 2 inches of precipitation in the fall, the others being 1889 and 1952.”

Today in Bachmannia: Our Gal surprised a lot of people by turning up in Florida Thursday. And she immediately made news. The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo writes: “Bachmann popped unexpectedly into South Florida on Thursday and started throwing haymakers at Republican presidential frontrunners Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Bachmann called Gingrich an ‘influence peddler’ and said he has flip-flopped just like Romney. And voters won’t buy it, she said. ‘They want to know what’s the truth,’ she said. ‘They’re not interested in a chameleon.’ Just the day before, Gingrich took umbrage with Bachmann’s criticism of his immigration plan and called her ‘factually challenged’ – a comment that highlighted the Minnesota congresswoman’s penchant for gaffes and misstatements. … During a question and answer session, Bachmann soon pivoted to Gingrich, who she said lobbies, and Romney. ‘Newt Gingrich has been a part of Washington D.C. for over three decades,’ she said, saying his claim to being a conservative outsider ‘is really not plausible’ because he ‘has been all over the map on his political positions and also this year alone has taken in over $100 million alone for the purpose of influence peddling in Washington D.C.. His offices are located in the rodeo drive of Washington D.C., which is K Street. And that influence peddling is not consistent with trying to portray yourself as an outsider.’ ” What’s the old line about a stopped clock?

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 12/02/2011 - 07:27 am.

    Historically, Minnesota’s economic “peaks and valleys” have not been as severe, compared to many other states or the nation as a whole.

  2. Submitted by andy on 12/02/2011 - 01:35 pm.

    If I’m not mistaken, didn’t those peaks and valleys flatten post Minnesota Miracle? Wasn’t it true that prior to that particular initiative (and LGA), that the state actually tended to lag behind regionally? It’s kind of too bad the majorities in the houses aren’t as civic minded as they were back then…

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