Thursday, July 22, 2010

Even making budget into hockey pucks can't help Emmer balance it

On last Friday's Almanac, Tom Emmer was given 100 hockey pucks, and The Big Red One was asked to divide them among budget categories and build a budget. Even the use of hockey pucks as a metaphor for the budget couldn't help hockey dad Emmer, although he did demonstrate some facility in juggling them at several points during the segment.

During the show, Mary LaHammer led two gubernatorial candidates through the budget exercise she called "Budget Slapshot." Similar to previous elections, this exercise asks candidates to allocate money in the categories of the general fund as they would like to see it if they were elected. Leading off this segment was Tom Emmer. You'd think this would be right up his alley, what with the zero-based budgeting and the hockey pucks! Unfortunately, for Emmer, it simply provided an object lesson in his absolute lack of understanding of the state budget while demonstrating his intent to gut health care, education spending, and local government aid.

First, here's a pie chart that represents the actual budget as of the end of the 2010 budget (from Minnesota Management and Budget - .pdf)

And here's what Tom Emmer came up with after nearly an hour of hemming, hawing, caveating, and explaining. I've highlighted the differences with red for categories that Emmer would reduce, and black for those he would increase. Transportation is green for a reason I will explain in a moment:

The first thing that leaps to my attention is that Emmer has no understanding of the biggest parts of the budget. 76% of the real general fund budget goes toward health/human services and education. In Tom Emmer's budget, they represent only 52%. This represents a cut of one-third across all health care programs, aid to school districts, etc. The best part of this is that Emmer represents this as "no big deal" - we'll find "efficiencies" and do it smarter. Local government aid? Emmer's budget would chop it in half. Transportation as a line item is a "gotcha" in my opinion, since nearly all transportation spending happens in a separate fund, so I've excluded it from my analysis. But even if you reallocated the 9% elsewhere, it wouldn't really change the thrust of Emmer's budget problems, they are that extreme.

The second thing is that Emmer consistently overstates the amount that is spent on the relatively small parts of the state budget. I simply can't believe that Emmer would quadruple the amount spent on environment, or increase the amount spent on state government agencies, or increase agriculture/veterans spending by more than 10 times the present levels! I can, however, believe that he'd quadruple economic development spending. But the central lesson here is that Emmer profoundly fails to understand how the budget works.

I'm usually not too enthused about these kinds of simulations, but in this case this might be the most concrete manifestation we get of Emmer's increasingly fuzzy assertions that he'd balance the budget by "redesigning" government. Just watching him squirm as he's forced to actually demonstrate the impact of his priorities is worth the investment of a couple of minutes of your time.

And here's the kicker - LaHammer then asked where he would cut an additional 10% from the budget, and Emmer went right back to the categories of spending he'd already eviscerated.
Health Care -5%
Local Government Aid -1%
Bonding Debt -2%
Economic Development -1%
Agriculture / Veterans -1%
While it's nice to see that he'd take back a bit of the tenfold increase in agriculture and veteran's spending and trim his quadrupling of economic development, mostly he just extends his dystopian fantasy of completely gutting health care for Minnesotans.

If Emmer understands anything, he should understand that you can't talk a hockey puck into the net. In this case, all the hemming and hawing and excuses in the world can't change the hard fiscal reality of what it would mean to balance the Minnesota general fund budget without considering any new revenue.

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