The longest recession since the Great Depression continues to harm Minnesota families. Unemployment is hovering around 10%, over 250,000 Minnesotans are unemployed, and home foreclosures persist. Our over-arching goal this session will be to get Minnesota’s economy working again for struggling Minnesotans.
One way we can do that is by passing a jobs-focused bonding bill and to do so early on in the session. By investing in shovel ready infrastructure projects we can create 10,000 to 20,000 good paying jobs while strengthening our long term economic interests. Typical projects include higher education improvements, statewide transportation and public safety projects, and those that enhance our local communities, environment and promote economic development.
Due to the recession, the state again faces a $1.2 billion budget deficit, on top of the $6.4 billion deficit from last year. This is the largest state budget deficit in Minnesota history. It is a top priority of mine this year to fight for a balanced budget that doesn’t ask the most vulnerable Minnesotans to bear the burden of these cuts, which is what happened last year.
Last year, our deficit was solved by approximately $2 billion in cuts from the Legislature, $2 billion in federal stimulus funds, and $2 billion in unilateral unallotments by the Governor. The cuts made by the Governor hit programs that serve the poorest and sickest Minnesotans, while protecting the state’s wealthiest from any sort of responsibility to solve our budget crisis. In other words, the people hurting most by this recession were asked to sacrifice while the people who have been doing alright were asked to sacrifice nothing. I believe our state budget is a moral document and I will fight this session to pass a morally and fiscally sound balanced budget.
Some of the Governor’s unallotments and cuts will be difficult to reinstate because of the continued budget deficit. However, we must make it a top priority to restore the General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program before it is eliminated on March 1st, 2010.
Due to the Governor’s line-item veto of GAMC, 35,000 Minnesotans who earn less than $8,000 per year, 70% of which have mental illnesses challenges, will lose their basic health care.
The name has been changed, but here is a true story from one person currently enrolled in GAMC.
When Lori arrived at the emergency room she was coughing up traces of blood and had crushing chest pain. At first, doctors thought she might have pneumonia, but the final diagnosis was far worse. Tests found that Lori had lung cancer that had spread from breast cancer. Her current hospital bill is $46,115. She will need further care and does not know how she will pay her medical bills when GAMC is eliminated.
I have worked with members of the House Health Care committee to put together a plan that would restore GAMC before it is eliminated. While there are many details still to be worked out, I am optimistic we can bring people together on a solution that will maintain our responsibility to care for those most in need.
I will again, this session, serve on the Health Care and Human Services Finance and Policy committees, as well as the Housing Finance and Policy and Public Health Finance committee. In these committees I look forward to advancing legislation that improves and expands affordable housing in Minneapolis as well as efforts to combat the continued home foreclosure crisis.
These are tough times, but there are some signs our economy is beginning to move in the right direction. I will work tirelessly to expedite our recovery and make sure it is a real recovery for all Minnesotans.