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Constitutional budget limits would put Minnesota's future at risk

Jan 2012

We support preserving the ability of a simple majority of lawmakers to determine the overall size of the state budget and to manage available resources. Therefore, we oppose any amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution that would require a supermajority vote to raise taxes or use reserve funds, or would restrict lawmakers from using available resources. Amendments such as these would damage Minnesota’s economic future by sharply limiting policymakers’ flexibility to respond to changing demographics and emerging needs. Lawmakers would find it harder to reach agreement, leading to an increase in legislative gridlock and the use of more budget gimmicks.

These amendments artificially limit state revenue or expenditure growth, or create barriers for increasing taxes. Such actions prevent public investments in our infrastructure from keeping up with growth in the economy, and they restrict the state’s ability to fund schools, safeguard the public health and maintain other critical services.

Experience from other states demonstrates that, whatever form these amendments take, they share similar problems. They:

  • Remove flexibility to respond to evolving public needs. Constitutional amendments that limit budgeting authority circumvent meaningful public debate around what level of services the community requires from their government. Circumstances change over time, requiring policymakers to adapt the state’s social and physical infrastructure to meet new expectations. But public discourse on these issues would be hampered by the reality that constitutional restrictions would limit policymakers’ ability to address emerging needs.
  • Increase the likelihood that the Legislature will resort to one-time fixes or accounting gimmicks. Just as water forges a new path when it encounters an obstacle, so elected officials will try to find ways to meet the needs of their constituents. With constitutional limits in place, policymakers will use less transparent methods to enact budget decisions they feel are critical for Minnesota’s future.
  • Restrict the state’s ability to respond to emergencies. A constitutional amendment interferes with the ability of public officials to address unanticipated circumstances and emergencies. Although the amendment may allow overrides in extraordinary circumstances, the ability to respond appropriately to a natural disaster or a public health emergency often requires a long-term financial investment in preventive measures. This type of preparation for the future is among the first victims of budget cutting when resources fall short.
  • Empower a small number of legislators to block action on important priorities. Amendments such as these require a supermajority vote to override restrictions on budget actions. This allows a small number of legislators to negotiate concessions on other, unrelated issues in exchange for their vote.
  • Erode essential functions of government. Constitutional limits on budget decisions may not allow government investments to keep pace with growth in the economy, so the ability to build roads, fund schools, safeguard the public health and maintain other core services is diminished over time.