The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 30, 2013

DFL's need to spend hurts taxpayers


---- — Fred Slocum says GOP anti-tax hurts a wide variety of people. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Slocum is an Minnesota State University employee, which might affect his view on why government spending is so wonderful. Slocum’s letter might leave one with the impression that government spending will save the world.

Unfortunately, Slocum conveniently forgets facts. The 2011-2012 GOP-controlled Legislature put forward a balanced budget (programs for disabled and the poor were protected and not “slashed” as Slocum falsely suggests) as required by law. Gov. Mark Dayton insisted on higher taxes and spending and in the process chose to shut the state down. Shutting down government when a balanced budget was passed is not the Legislature’s fault; Gov. Dayton owns the shutdown.

Historically, Minnesota education finance policy has included a 90-10 school shift — 90 percent sent to schools with remaining 10 percent sent the next fiscal year. In 2011 negotiations Dayton asked for a 50/50 split; the Legislature negotiated back to a 60/40 split. In 2012 the Republican Legislature passed a bill to pay back the “school shift” done in 2011. Dayton vetoed.

For those that believe in taxing and spending at all costs one should ask this question: At what point does the government take a high enough percentage of taxpayers’ money? When families, taxpayers and businesses downsized during the recession, government would not hear of comparable downsizing.

The 2011-2012 GOP-controlled Legislature protected programs for disabled adults and the poor. Government spending was slowed, not massive cuts instituted. Forecasted general fund spending was over $39 billion for 2012-13 and was $39.7 billion for 2014-15, compared to $30.2 billion in 2010-11. The budget that passed totaled $33.96 billion in FY2012-13 and $36.56 billion in spending in FY2014-15[1]. So while Mr. Slocum states this is a cut, it is actually a slowing of the rate of spending, not a “cut.”

Perhaps Slocum should address if tuitions at state colleges and universities are rising because of lack of state funding? The Republicans proposed a tuition freeze that Gov. Dayton and the DFL balked at but now take credit for doing the same this year. But that won’t stop student’s bills from going up as emphasized by a Minnesota Daily article: “Despite freeze, fees increase.[2]” 

Since 2001, state higher education funding has been up-and-down. Today it's about where it was 10 years ago. Taking inflation into consideration, state funding has decreased by 25 percent. Meanwhile, cost of tuition has doubled.

An average year of tuition and fees at a Minnesota State Colleges and Universities school 10 years ago was $3,200. Today, the students pay more than $6,800. During that same period, tuition and fees at the University of Minnesota increased from $4,800 to more than $12,000, in excess of $13,000 including fees.

It’s time to examine exorbitant state employee (including college professors) retirement packages, essentially free health care and how administration\staffing levels have exploded. I would ask colleges to do their part in keeping tuition down and run a better business model.

A December 2012 Wall Street Journal Report [3] stated, “Like many public colleges, the University of Minnesota went on a spending spree over the past decade, paid for by a steady stream of state money and rising tuition. Officials didn't keep close tabs on their payroll as it swelled beyond 19,000 employees, nearly one for every 3.5 students.”

From the report: “Administrative employees make up an increasing share of the university's higher-paid people. The school employs 353 people earning more than $200,000 a year. That is up 57 percent from the inflation-adjusted pay equivalent in 2001. Among this $200,000-plus group, 81 today have administrative titles, versus 39 in 2001.” Hardly the doom and gloom starving beast of government that Slocum would like you to believe.

Instead of more money, government needs to work harder and smarter to prioritize spending. When the economy picks up, tax revenues increase and there is more money to be spent on roads, bridges, education and other government responsibilities. It is only the government (and Democrat college professors), and their insatiable need to spend more that believes killing the golden goose (driving the large taxpayers from our state) is worth it to continue paying for a failed (time and again) progressive agenda!

Lon Firchau lives in xx is a small business owner and vice chair of the Blue Earth County Republican Party. The electronic version of this story contains footnotes.

[1] http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/fiscal/files/CCcomparison11SS.pdf

[2] http://www.mndaily.com/university/administration/2013/06/18/despite-freeze-fees-increase

[3] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424127887323316804578161490716042814.html