Minnesotans hardly view their state budget processes and outcomes as optimal. Critics are numerous, their criticisms are constructive, and proposed solutions are not lacking.
Criticism that centers on the proper role of state government in the political economy takes the form of disagreement over the substantive content of the budget. Intense partisan debate on the size of the budget, the priorities for spending, and the mix of revenues to support the spending, constitute the dynamics of the process, and will be repeated election after election and cycle after cycle. This type of criticism only reflects the vitality of the state's politics, with the solutions chosen reflecting the political majority at the time.
The structure and processes within which substantive budget decisions are made have also come under criticism, with the legislature drawing most of the attention. The use and abuse of the conference process near the end of the session is generally regarded as a major problem. Order and predictability seem abandoned and are supplanted by apparent confusion and surprises, with much of the deliberations shielded from public scrutiny. Proposed corrective measures can range from time and procedure adjustments in the conference process 12 to calls for adoption of a unicameral system, eliminating even the possibility of conference committees. 13
The problem of revenue uncertainty, causing second-year fiscal crises, might be better managed under an annual budget cycle. The creation of budget committees, even a joint budget committee, to forge comprehensive macro-budget resolutions in the early stages of the legislative session, is seen as giving the legislature a sense of publicly visible policy direction. A legislative budget office will increase the legislature's capacity to cope with the complexity of the budget and the informational advantage held by the executive. 14
Critiques of structure and process come from current and former legislators, good government and interest groups, academic policy researchers, and, at times, the media. This type of criticism reflects the level and intensity of interest in the conduct of budgeting in Minnesota, and concern for its stability. Events that resulted in instability are the legacy of the 1980s. The instability of the revenue system remains with the state and conditions the course of budgeting each session. The challenge in the next decade is to create solutions to restore stability.