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Torrey Westrom column: Budget shortfall a clear call for common sense

We recently learned the November state budget forecast calls for a $6.2 billion shortfall in 2012-13 - a clear call that like families, small businesses and local government, state government will also have to reduce and reform spending to balanc...

We recently learned the November state budget forecast calls for a $6.2

billion shortfall in 2012-13 - a clear call that like families, small

businesses and local government, state government will also have to

reduce and reform spending to balance its budget.

An important footnote to recognize is that Minnesota's revenue is

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expected to actually rise by nearly 5 percent in the next biennium, but

a 28-percent spike in spending is projected, far outweighing the added

revenue and putting a hole in our budget. The good news is there is a

long list of common-sense solutions to help government live within its

means that's been offered in recent years.

Many of those worthy ideas - previously buried in committees - will

receive their due consideration when the new majority takes place in

January.

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Here are just a handful of the proposals: reforming welfare to save

taxpayers money and reduce fraud, limiting state government spending to

only available revenues, privatizing the prison system, selling excess

state lands, and reforming MinnesotaCare to save money and provide

recipients with more choice and better health care quality.

These measures would help our state live within its means just like

small businesses and families throughout Minnesota have done during the

recession. Not all of them will prove to be practical, but it is obvious

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our budget course is unsustainable and the "easy fixes" like

one-time reductions, delayed payments and federal stimulus money already

have been mostly tapped. What's worse is these options not only are

used up, but they put us in a bind because our state is committed to

spending more than we can afford.

Here are the major factors contributing to our $8.3 billion in spending

growth for the next biennium, courtesy Minnesota Management & Budget:

Replacing federal stimulus money: $2.3 billion

K-12 funding: $1.9 billion

School shift buyback: $1.4 billion

One-time reductions: $660 million

Government program growth (HHS, etc): $2 billion

This budget pinch presents us with a chance to re-think the way our

state conducts business. The 2011 legislative session begins Jan. 4 so

we can begin the process of achieving fiscal responsibility and a strong

private-sector workforce, the two keys to regaining prosperity. We will

face many difficult decisions along the way, but I am confident we will

display the long-term vision and strong leadership necessary to turn

around our economy, state tax revenues and work together with Gov.-elect

Dayton to help minimize our continual budget deficits.

I welcome your continued correspondence as we prepare for the 2011

session; all ideas to reduce spending are needed and welcomed. Your

ideas help me to do my best job possible in representing this area in

the Legislature. You can e-mail me at rep.torrey.westrom@house.mn .

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Rep. Westrom can be reached at the Capitol by calling 651-296-4929 or

800-711-2620, and by email at rep.torrey.westrom@house.mn . His office

is located at 273 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther

King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

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