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BLOG: What Has Your State Rep. Done to Keep State Borrowing & Spending Under Control?

candidate for Minnesota House 52b goes on the record...

"Mothers all want their sons to grow up to be President, but they don't want them to become politicians in the process." -- John F. Kennedy

I have stated many times that I have no interest in being a career politician. However, when you begin to pay attention to what our state and federal governments are doing, it becomes a great motivator to become politically active.

We have witnessed quite a re-awakening of public scrutiny of the proper role of government in recent years and that is very healthy. Our federal government has extended its reach so much, both at home and abroad, that they have accumulated over $16 trillion in debt. That equals about $141,000 per taxpayer!

Have we done better at the state level? By law Minnesota must balance its budget or it shuts down. We witnessed that 20 Day fiasco in the summer of 2011. Let’s take a look at how the $35 Billion Minnesota State Budget breaks down:

  • 33% Health Care
  • 19% Education
  • 19% Welfare
  • 12% Government Pensions
  • 6% Transportation
  • 4% Protection

The balance is allocated to general government spending and debt service.

We will take a more detailed look at some of this spending later, but one thing I want to focus on is the area we don’t talk about much—Minnesota debt. You would think that a budget this large would include all spending projects, but it doesn’t. 

That 6% allocated to transportation doesn’t pay for many roads and bridges. The state passes bonding bills to pay for that. These projects are put on the state 'credit card.'  This is quite dangerous for many reasons. 

In 2012, construction had yet to start on many of the projects included in 2011’s $531 million bonding bill, but that didn’t stop Joe Atkins from voting to pass a second bonding bill for the biennium adding another $566 million of debt to the taxpayer credit card (HF1752).

Minnesota has a total state debt of approximately $69,199,871,000, when calculated by adding the total of outstanding official debt, public employee pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liabilities, Unemployment Trust Fund loans, and the FY2013 state budget gap. 

That equals over $12,900 for each man, woman, and child in Minnesota.

Not only do we have all of this debt to pay back, but there is an expense to financing this debt. We will spend $454 Million in debt service in FY2012-13. As any credit card holder knows, it costs money to borrow money.

The worse your credit rating is, the more expensive it is for you to borrow money and to continue to increase your credit limit.

Moody's Investor Service downgraded its outlook on Minnesota from stable to negative in light of the budget's reliance on one-time funds. Moody's said that Minnesota faces "significant obstacles" in achieving a structurally balanced budget in the next cycle as a result of those actions.

Both Moody’s and Fitch Ratings lowered the state's credit ranking in July 2011. What do these credit rating agencies tell us?  

We need to get runaway government spending under control and stop running up bills on the state credit card. 

The year prior to Joe Atkins taking office, Minnesota held about $5.4 billion in state debt. This has now more than doubled to $12.6 billion. This is a sobering number. When Joe advanced his career to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2002, the state had a $18.4 billion budget—since he’s been in office our spending has nearly doubled. 

During that decade, Minnesota’s population increased by only 325,000. During this time, Mr. Atkins has served on the powerful Commerce Committee.

This spending and debt explosion not only happened on his watch, but in front of the very committee he has chaired.

It is time that someone stood up to out of control government spending. It’s time to ‘just say no’ to career politicians who can’t seem to say ‘no’ to runaway spending.

As your representative I will be the one to stand up to the fiscal insanity and make government learn the lesson that it must live within its means, just as every family in Inver Grove Heights has to do during tough economic times.

When we live free, we live better. We need freedom from runaway government spending and doubling down on State debt.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Al Tate October 08, 2012 at 06:25 PM
This is a shabby attempt to blame Joe Atkins for the state deficit. It's not one person, it's not one democrat, it's not one republican. This smear attempt fails to show how state Republicans have spent money, which they have. So have democrats. Both parties are to blame. If you think Atkins is the only person to blame for this, well, then I frankly am worried you are not educated enough to lead anyone through these tough economic times.
Pat October 08, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Al, you're absolutely right that there are people to blame on both sides of the aisle. This blog is not proclaiming that Joe Atkins is the sole reason that we are in this situation in the state of Minnesota. Fiscal irresponsibility is "bi-partisan" in many cases. But when Joe makes broad claims about how taxes have fallen since he has been in office, meanwhile voting for spending increases and against spending decreases, he is not being truthful to the voter. Plus, Joe isn't just one simple vote in the Minnesota House. He is a member of the Commerce Committee - the very people who are supposed to provide oversight for this kind of thing. Joe is not the sole reason that these problems exist, but continuing to elect him, and others like him, who do not champion fiscal responsibility will ensure that we continue to slip further into the hole.
Joe Atkins October 08, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Actually, Al, I give Paul a lot of credit for writing a column about the state's use of bonding to pay for projects. It is complex and often misunderstood, particularly the distinction between what the federal government does and what we do here. At the federal level, under both D's and R's, they have been borrowing money to pay for day-to-day operations. That's wrong, and it needs to stop. At the state, we don't borrow to pay for day-to-day operations. We use the state's bonding authority to pay for projects with a long useful life, like schools and transportation projects. We pay these projects off over 20 years, like a mortgage on a home. Even then, we limit the use of borrowing to 3% of the state budget. Notably, this approach to using limited borrowing to pay for projects with a long useful life over time is what was pushed for by Gov. Pawlenty during most of my time in office. He's not exactly known for being a wild spender. There was one recent exception to the rule that in Minnesota we do not use borrowing for day-to-day operations. Over $2 billion in one-time borrowing from Minnesota's schools and from tobacco appropriation bonds was used to balance the state's most recent budget. It is what led to the downgrade in Minnesota's bond rating that Paul cited in his blog. I voted AGAINST it, but Paul's Republican colleagues in charge of the legislature passed it and Gov. Dayton signed it. I'm glad to hear Paul would join me in opposing that approach.
Eric Goodrich October 08, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Mr. Atkins, have you ever voted against a bonding bill? You reference using the State's bonding authority for projects with a 'useful life'... Does that include the 2008 Bonding Bill which was loaded with 'pork barrel' projects like the polar bear and gorilla houses at Como Zoo, the Chatfield Brass Band Music Lending Library, sand volleyball courts in Rochester, more subsidies for light rail, bike paths, etc...? https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/bin/bldbill.php?bill=ccrhf0380.html&session=ls85 I would agree that infrastructure is something that bonding could be used for, however, Bonding is now being used as a Economic Stimulus project. We are seeing that this kind of Keynesian stimulus doesn't really work... it only drives us deeper in debt...
William 'Bill' DeBerg October 08, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Joe, if we double the state budget we can borrow twice as much right? I think I am starting to get why you vote the way you do!!! Think of all the new light rails and stadiums we could build then. We could create so many jobs!
Walter Hudson October 09, 2012 at 11:58 AM
It's nice to see a well-rounded challenger who not only knows what he believes, but how to apply it to the conduct of government. The state needs to cut spending not just in terms of the zero-baseline amount, but also categorically reevaluate what the state spends money on. The role of the state needs to be addressed, and Tuschy seems likely to welcome that discussion.
Lorri Barnett October 09, 2012 at 03:37 PM
I find that Paul's data to be very accurate as well as his viewpoint/opinion. His timing couldn't be better to point out the fact that, whether we like it or not, the path we're on as a state with spending money we don't have, is not sustainable. Do you have an extra $13,000 lying around to pay the state's debt ($26,000 if you're married)? I sure don't. At some point we're going to have to deal with this problem and its going to be painful, no doubt. Or we can file for bankruptcy. Where do we start? That's the big question. Promises are going to have to be broken because there isn't enough money to pay everyone back. Who is willing to sacrifice...for the sake of our kids? It seems as though Mr. Atkins has no problem passing the buck on to MN taxpayers and working families to foot the bill when we're having a hard time paying our own bills, much less the states' credit card.
Lorri Barnett October 09, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I bet that very few people even know that Moody's downgraded our credit rating. My question is...how does anyone think that these policies are sustainable? Borrowing money is not the path to prosperity. Getting the government off the backs of business owner and taxpayers will grow the economy. With Paul Tuschy as your representative, you can rest assured that he's looking out for your tax dollar on every bill he votes for. Paul understands that individual and economic freedom need to be the consideration of any government action.
Ben Blomgren October 23, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Paul knows his stuff! Did you know that 12.6 billion dollars is roughly equivalent to about 101 pallets of $100 bills stacked 5 feet tall? That 454 million dollars is enough to give everyone in St. Paul about $1,800. I know a few bridges that could use some work and some highways that need congestion relief that could be helped by 454 million dollars. Oh well, at least we'll have a new stadium for the Vikings, though!

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