Minnesota: Searching for Stability
JAMES E. JERNBERG
Minnesotans pay attention to state budgeting. Many believe that state government actions, reflected in the budget, have an impact on the quality of life in the state. 1 The state's citizens have long assigned a positive role to government spending to improve their collective quality of life, and have also shown a willingness to tax themselves to support that spending. Minnesota's personal income tax rates are among the highest in the nation, and spending for education, health, and human dignity services has always been above the national average. Public space has been reserved and developed for recreational use by both state and local governments. Infrastructure has been maintained and improved through the years.
This legacy, the civic culture of the state, the responsibility for which had been accepted and shared by people of nearly all political persuasions, has recently been challenged. The issue has usually been framed in terms of taxes, not unlike but less severe than the efforts to limit taxes in some other states ( California or Massachusetts) over the past decade. Concern over taxes places constraints on spending. Political issues in the 1970s centered on how and where to distribute increasing revenues. The political disposition to spend--public money for public purposes by public governments--is now being tempered by proposals to spend less and/or have public purposes carried out by the private sector. The appropriate future role of government as the instrument for carrying out public policy is now a topic of debate in the budget process. The progressive tradition, long part of the environment of state budgeting, can no longer be assumed. 2
Budgeting is not a technical exercise in Minnesota. It has become the focal point of major differences and disagreements over the role of the state in particular programs within a house, between houses, and between the governors and one or both houses, all depending on the party affiliations of the incumbents.
In recent years partisanship has been most evident in the areas of taxes, economic development, jobs and training programs, and assistance to the disadvantaged, where basic disagreements now exist over the most appropriate and effective measures to enhance the state's economy and the well-being of its people. Any