A 2003 rerun? - Governor balances the budget on the backs of persons with disabilities

Remember in 2003 when services for persons with disabilities were cut severely? Well, welcome to 2008. In recent weeks there have been several significant announcements at the Capitol impacting the future of services and supports:

• Minnesota faces a $935 million budget deficit for the budget years ending on June 30, 2009.

• The governor wants health and human services to be responsible for $500 million worth of budget cuts and funding transfers. The lowlights of the governor’s budget include:

• Elimination of the 2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) scheduled for this July

• Caps on growth in the CADI and TBI waivers.

• Limits on the growth in MNDHO (Minnesota Disability Health Options).

• Calls for four counties to pay back $4.2 million in past over-expenditures on the developmental disabilities waiver in 2004.

The deficit is not expected to disappear after 2009. The state budget forecast in February 2008 projects a $1 billion deficit in the 2010-11 biennial budget year—$2 billion when inflation is factored in.

Persons with disabilities are tired of making sacrifices to help the state balance its budget. Since 2003, people with disabilities receiving human services and providers of disability supports have experienced more than $500 million in spending cuts, fee increases, additional copayments, and/or budget transfers. In 2008, human services are being asked to bear 50% of the responsibility for eliminating the $935 billion deficit when they make up only about 28% of the state budget.

Some would argue that the continued existence of deficits means we have a spending problem. However, I would argue we have more of a revenue problem. The income tax rebates and cuts from the late 1990s, 2000, and 2001 have helped create a hole that we haven’t been able to dig out from. We know that we need to be wise stewards of the resources that taxpayers provide, and we know that many Minnesotans are struggling financially as we face a downturn in our economy. But we need adequate resources to provide the services that Minnesotans with disabilities need, too. And these supports help more Minnesotans become contributing, included, and valued members of our communities.

Our elected officials need to make a greater commitment to raising the revenues required to make life better for persons with disabilities, in a way that fairly distributes the contributions Minnesotans are asked to make in taxes. Our job is not made any easier when Gov. Pawlenty proposes a 1/8 percent cut in the sales tax – a $77 million yearly hit to the budget. This is $77 million more that won’t be available to disability supports and other valuable state projects.

What action can you take this session? The Arc of Minnesota and its partners in the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) will monitor the situation closely at the Capitol. Please urge your legislators to not balance the budget on the backs of people with disabilities. If you don’t know who your legislator is, go to The Arc of Minnesota Web site, and click on the “Who Represents Me at the State Capitol?” link, or call 651-296-2146 (1-800-657-3550 toll free). You can also check their Web site for updates from the State Capitol and other specific actions you can take before the Legislature adjourns.

Steve Larson is Public Policy Director at The Arc of MN