WDAY: The News Leader

Published December 05, 2012, 09:35 PM

County and school officials see upside to $1.1 billion Minnesota deficit

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Minnesota is facing a $1.1 billion deficit. County and school officials say there's actually an upside in the budget battle.

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - Minnesota is facing a $1.1 billion deficit. County and school officials say there's actually an upside in the budget battle.

Minnesota has reduced nearly 4 billion dollars from the deficit. That's good news: county governments and school districts face fewer cuts. However, they aren't getting their hopes up just yet.

Grant Weyland, Clay Co. Commissioner: "It's a positive thing for Minnesota."

Grant Weyland's battled Minnesota's budget problems for years. The commissioner says Clay County is trimming the fat any way it can.

Weyland: "Our staff found ways to eliminate things that enable us to operate and still deliver the services we need to."

The deficit was about 5 billion dollars last session. Now, it's 1.1 billion. In comparison, that deficit is looking pretty good. Yet the county still could encounter some cuts.

To maintain vital services to residents, the struggle it could face in the future.

Weyland: "We can't just pass those costs along to the citizens of Clay County that are paying taxes."

Meantime for Moorhead Public Schools, it's finally getting some bucks back in the bank. The state delayed payments to districts recently. Now, Minnesota will pay money back: $500 million to schools state-wide.

Supt. Lynne Kovash, Moorhead Public Schools: "That is good news. That's what we've been asking for, the state not to use the school districts as bank."

Until Minnesota tackles school funding reform, Moorhead says it will spend conservatively. Just in case. Because the district wants to keep meeting goals, with state funding, or not.

Kovash: "Upgrading our technology, adding early childhood, adding world languages. We've been able to move forward with those, it just gives us the security that we can keep those in place."

The state spends about 34 billion dollars each year. And Governor Mark Dayton will submit a new budget proposal in January. Then, legislators have until July first to hash it out, or it could face another state shutdown.

Minnesota's legislature meets January 8th to battle the budget.

State Representative Paul Marquart says a lot of work needs to be done. The democrat says legislators need to avoid short-term gimmicks that hurt taxpayers and schools.

They'll need to focus on job creation, lowering property taxes, and increasing student achievement.

St. Rep. Paul Marquart, (D) Dilworth: "What we can't do is what we've done in the past, where we've hurt our schools, we've put higher property taxes on our senior citizens, and our families, and our farmers, and our small businesses."

Marquart is now the Chair of the Education Finance Committee.