ST. PAUL - When State Sen. Dennis Frederickson first was elected to the state Senate in 1980, he saw duty almost immediately in making tough cuts in unbalanced biennium budgets in 1981, 1982 and 1983. As a result, his view is that the looming $5.2 billion deficit is akin to what the state went through during the early '80s in terms of difficulty, if not in actual dollars needed to resolve the deficit.
"You have to take into [account] inflation to compare apples to apples, but '81, '82 and '83 were also difficult years. We had several special sessions back in '81 and '82 to continually rebalance the budget, and we were in a very bad national recession so I would say that this current recession compares to that," said Frederickson, R-New Ulm, reached at his Senate office Sunday.
The Minnesota Legislature's 86th Session opens Tuesday.
Sen. Dennis Frederickson (R.- New Ulm) has experienced budget-cut decisions before during his tenure in the Minnesota Legislature.
While legislators will have a lot of irons in the fire addressing a multitude of issues, all eyes will be watching and waiting for the February budget forecast.
"In many ways, a deficit in the current biennium is more than one in the next biennium because [the last one] we have will be in February. So, if we have a deficit then, there's only three for four months left in the biennium to balance the budget," Frederickson said.
"You know, most of the expenditures have been made. and most of the tax collections have occurred. So, we have very, very few and very poor options to deal with another deficit in the next biennium."
However, he remains optimistic that if legislators and the governor are willing to work together, the looming budget deficit for the next biennium can be resolved.
But, he's pragmatic about it, too.
The governor's cuts, which included reducing the last local government aid payment of the year for cities over 1,000 population and counties with populations of 5,000 or more, weren't really a passing of the buck in dealing with an unbalanced budget forecast, Frederickson said.
"Something like 70 or 75 percent of the state budget is spent by local units of government or entities other than core state government. So, whenever the state budget is in deficit of any significance, it's going to affect programs at the local level of cities, counties, school districts, state universities just because that's where the state money flows," Frederickson said.
"This deficit is so large we're not going to be able to solve it by finessing it. We're not going to be able to solve it by just making cuts, and we're not going to be able to solve it by just raising taxes or fees. It's going to be some combination of increased revenue, cuts and some strategic shifting of state payments into the next biennium if that is possible," Frederickson said.
"I would hope that the federal government would have some help for states in balancing budgets, too. The last figure I saw from the Council of State Governments was about 40 states were running deficits in their state budgets," he said.
"So, [where] the federal government could really help us would be to help balance the state budgets not with just some general aid to help us continue to provide essential services [but] to fund federal programs that are joint state-federal programs [and] to have the federal take over a larger share of it," Frederickson said.
"There's certainly some hope for optimism, though, because there's a new administration in Washington and a new Congress. With that new administration, there will be some optimism that things are going to get better, and I think the main thing is to stress the optimism [so] people become optimistic again and look forward to producing and restoring the prosperity."
Ron Larsen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org