In the Spotlight

News & Features
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Day 1 of new budget year brings more protests
Larger view
Welfare rights protesters demonstrated outside the governor's mansion Tuesday, saying the new state budget hurts the poor and disadvantaged the most. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
Minnesota's new two-year budget took effect Tuesday, marked by protests and dire predictions. The budget erases what was projected to be a $4.2 billion deficit with one-time money, payment shifts, fee increases and spending cuts. Some proposed welfare cuts were temporarily blocked by a Ramsey County judge, but other cuts across state government began as scheduled.

St. Paul, Minn. — The budget signed into law by Gov. Pawlenty would cut benefits for as many as 21,000 welfare recipients. A temporary restraining order issued by Judge Judith Tilsen defers those cuts, but welfare rights protestors say the ruling is only a short-term victory. Members of the Welfare Rights Committee marked the first day of the new budget by protesting outside the governor's mansion.

"We're fired up -- we won't take no more!" they chanted.

Larger view
Image Angel Buechner

The protestors say Pawlenty pushed through the biggest welfare cuts in Minnesota history, and balanced the budget on the backs of the poorest Minnesotans.

Angel Buechner of Minneapolis is a welfare recipient with four children. She's studying to be a medical assistant, and works part time. Buechner says her benefits are scheduled to drop $300 per month because two of her children have disabilities and she lives in subsidized housing.

"Pawlenty feels that because I am poor, I'm a black woman and because I have four kids without being married, I should be made to suffer the consequences," Buechner says.

The governor wasn't home to respond to the protestors. His spokeswoman, Leslie Kupchella, says Pawlenty needed to make difficult decisions to eliminate a historic budget deficit. She says people who rely on government services will be disproportionately affected by budget cuts.

Virtually every area throughout government has been affected, so to say that he has targeted one particular group or income level or race or anything like that is simply not true.
- Leslie Kupchella, governor's spokeswoman

"But by no means has he balanced this budget on the backs of the working poor. We've tried to share this across all lines," Kupchella says. "Virtually every area throughout government has been affected, so to say that he has targeted one particular group or income level or race or anything like that is simply not true."

Kupchella says the state will comply with the judge's order to restore the welfare cuts temporarily, although she says coming up with the extra money will be difficult. The cuts were expected to save the state $22 million over the next two years.

Karen Kingsley of the Affirmative Options Coalition says the cuts will probably go into effect at some point. But Kingsley says even a short delay is better than nothing for the affected families.

"Any month where a family with a disabled family member has $125 more in their pocket is a good month as far as I'm concerned," she says.

Kingsley and other officials with nonprofit organizations held a two-hour briefing on the impact of the new budget. Marcia Avner, public policy director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, says cuts in health care programs and child care subsidies will be felt immediately. She says some young people will be affected this summer by cuts in summer school and at-risk youth programs.

Larger view
Image Protesters

Avner says other effects will take longer to evaluate, such as the impact of cuts to local governments. She says most families will be affected in some way, whether through cuts in services they receive or fee increases or tuition hikes.

"The real question on the table is, what is it that Minnesotans will accept, not only in their own lives but in the well-being of their communities," says Avner. "No one does well in Minnesota if we have more people who are homeless, if we have children who have health care needs that aren't being met at the preventive or early stages, if we have families that can't reach the livable wage."

Avner says Minnesota has never turned its back on people in the way that the budget does.

Gov. Pawlenty has said the budget will not erode Minnesota's quality of life. He said the state couldn't sustain the rate of growth in government spending.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects