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State Rep. Bernie Lieder, DFL-Crookston, column: Minnesota needs jobs, jobs, jobs

By Bernie Lieder CROOKSTON -- The Minnesota Department of Finance's economic forecast gave us sobering news about the state of economy and budget. We face a $1.2 billion budget deficit for the coming year and an even larger deficit for the next b...

By Bernie Lieder

CROOKSTON -- The Minnesota Department of Finance's economic forecast gave us sobering news about the state of economy and budget.

We face a $1.2 billion budget deficit for the coming year and an even larger deficit for the next biennium.

This very well may be the most serious budget challenge our state has ever seen. I want to discuss the reasons we are in this position and talk about what the Legislature already is doing to address these challenges.

In a nutshell, we continue to face budget struggles because Minnesota families continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment. Seventy percent of our deficit is a direct result of losses in revenue, which is happening because the state is collecting fewer income tax receipts.

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Along with high unemployment, workers have seen the biggest wage drop in state history. When you're not working, you're not paying taxes.

So a big part of our strategy to eliminate our budget deficit will be to get Minnesotans back to work.

The House Capital Investment Committee has been active throughout the summer and fall working to put together a jobs-targeted bonding bill. As a member of the committee, I have toured dozens of proposed locations for bonding projects, and I brought the committee to northwestern Minnesota to view projects in our area.

In evaluating these projects, we need to prioritize those that are shovel- ready so we maximize the potential for new jobs. State Economist Tom Stinson estimated that a $1 billion bonding bill would create 10,000 jobs. While the bill itself wouldn't balance the budget, it would be a big step in the right direction and help improve Minnesota's economy.

Addressing our budget shortfall will require us to ask difficult questions about the future of our state. More painful budget cuts will be necessary, but we also must begin making decisions that will position us for a successful economy in the long term.

Too often in the past, short-term fixes have been used to patch up our budget. Pushing the structural budget problems out in the future has only guaranteed another budget deficit after the last one. That's why under Gov. Tim Pawlenty, we have seen a budget deficit in seven out of the past eight years.

Today we are out of short-term fixes. The chicken is coming home to roost, and we need to start seriously planning for the future.

According to state economist Tom Stinson, the reason Minnesota traditionally has been an economic leader is our investments in education. We have the best-educated, most-skilled work force in the country, and it has fueled our economy for a generation.

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In weathering these difficult times, we must focus on our long-term objective of a stronger Minnesota, which will require a continued commitment to our world-class education system.

While much of the budget forecast focused on "bad news," Stinson did give some hope. He said the national recession is beginning to wind down, and "we're clearly on the long, slow path upward."

It's our job at the Legislature this session to do everything we can to expedite the journey back to prosperity for Minnesota families.

Lieder, a DFLer, represents District 1B in the Minnesota House.

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