Schools to get some money back

by T.W. Budig

ECM Capitol reporter

Minnesota is facing a projected state budget deficit of $1.1 billion in the next two-year budget cycle, according to Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB).

Still, current conditions allow the state to pay back $1.3 billion on the outstanding $2.4 billion K–12 budget shift crafted last session in an end of session budget deal by Democrats and Republicans.

The school shift figured prominently in the last election, Democrats citing it as an example of bungled budgeting.

“Since it automatically goes to pay the shift under current law, we would not call it a surplus,” said John Pollard, MMB communications director.

The paydown reflects the projected outcome of the current two-year budget cycle.

Elk River Area School District officials were quick to point on Wednesday night at a meeting of the School Board that the money is not new money for districts. It’s cash that the districts around the state are owed, and now won’t have to borrow to cover their expenses.

State forecasters earlier this year projected a budget deficit for the upcoming spending cycle, so this morning’s numbers are not surprising.

Since inflationary effects are not incorporated into budget forecasts, the $1.1 project deficit may cast a longer shadow when they are.

One larger shadow overcasting all is the so-called “fiscal cliff” awaiting at year’s end.

State Economist Tom Stinson has previously warned events in Washington — the chance of automatic tax increases and budget cuts called for in the Budget Control Act — could markedly affect the nation’s economy.

While the November economic forecast is closely watched by lawmakers, the February forecast, which appears during the legislative session, provides the final numbers lawmakers incorporate into budget bills.

Unions were quick to comment on this morning’s numbers, calling for tax increases.

“Any surplus disappears if the state accounts for inflation and pays back the school shift,” explained Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5, Minnesota’s largest public-employee union, in a statement.

“If Republicans are looking for massive spending cuts, they’ve already done that with a decade of disinvestment,” said Seide.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Shar Knutson offered similar comment.

“If we want to continue to have strong schools, a 21st century transportation infrastructure, create family-sustaining jobs, and care for those unable to care for themselves, Minnesota will need a significant influx of new tax revenue,” she said in a statement.