For years, state officials have resorted to the equivalent of pay-day loans to balance Minnesota’s budget.
Now, with the loans coming due, we’re stuck with the questions of a panic-stricken borrower: Where can I grab more cash? Where can I slash spending?
Because that is the reality confronting Minnesota this year, those are the questions posed in MinnPost’s budget calculator.
But no Minnesotan who cares about the state’s future should settle for those questions alone. In the urgency forced on us by the state’s fiscal mess, this is the time to probe deeper with questions about the very structures of government as it meets — or fails to meet — Minnesota’s priorities and future needs.
To name a few:
- How should the state shift its resources to meet a future when baby boomers will retire and a new generation will be challenged to fill their jobs?
- If we cherish K-12 education enough to make it our single biggest general fund expenditure, then shouldn’t we insist on closing the achievement gap between white students and racial minorities? Shouldn’t we demand better achievement in science for all students?
- How can we restructure long term care so that we don’t kick Granny out of the nursing home but we also don’t go broke paying the costs associated with an aging population?
- Can we find the political will to tear down inefficient government structures that are riddled with overlapping services and excessive costs? Can we deliver more services along regional rather than county or school district lines? Do we need as many college campuses? As many law enforcement units? As many prison beds? As many different IT systems?
- In the wake of the revamped federal health insurance system, should the state overhaul its costly health care programs?
- Rather than starting with a presumed budget and asking what can be cut, should the Legislature wipe its spending slate clean and use a “zero-based” approach, matching the state’s current needs with the funds that are available for each biennium?
In the months to come, you will see Minnesota’s fiscal crisis ignite ferocious political battles.
Pay close attention, though, and you will see something else that you may not have expected. Many Minnesota leaders and groups are rising to meet the challenges posed by this crisis, to seek answers to the critical long-term questions.
There is real excitement in the air. There is a wealth of ideas for securing Minnesota’s well-being.
To supplement MinnPost’s budget calculator, with its crisis-driven questions, we will cover innovative ideas as they evolve this year. And we will touch base with the thinkers and leaders who are working to propel the state toward a more prosperous future.