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PoliGraph: lawmaker's spending claim ignores key information

poligraph-misleading.JPGDuring a recent House Tax Committee hearing, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, made an oft-repeated claim about Gov. Mark Dayton's budget.

"The governor's proposal expands state government," he said on April 13, 2011. "It expands state government 22 percent."

Gottwalt isn't telling the whole story of the state's finances.

The Evidence

In the current biennium, the state expected to spend about $30.2 billion from the general fund, the state's primary pot of money. Dayton says he wants to spend about $37.3 billion in the upcoming biennium.

That's about a 23.5 percent increase in spending. So, on one hand, Gottwalt's claim is within range.

However, Gottwalt sidesteps two important facts: In the current biennium, Minnesota received $2.3 billion in federal stimulus money to stabilize the state's budget and help pay for Medicaid. And to balance the budget, the state agreed to put off paying schools an additional $1.9 billion. Despite the delay, the state has told schools to continue spending normally by tapping reserves or using credit.

According to the Minnesota House Fiscal Staff, those actions allowed the state to pay for about $4.2 billion more than the general fund would support in the current biennium, essentially bringing general fund spending to $34.4 billion.

Factor in federal dollars and the school payment shifts, and Dayton is proposing only an 8.4 percent spending increase.

The Verdict

In the current biennium, it looks like the state will spend about $30.2 billion. But that number is artificially low because of one-time federal stimulus dollars and a school payment shift.

As a result, Gottwalt's claim is misleading.

-- By Catharine Richert

SOURCES

Minnesota Management and Budget, Gov. Mark Dayton's FY 2012-13 Biennial Budget, Feb. 12, 2011

Minnesota House Fiscal Staff, General Fund Spending Increase: FY 2010-11 to FY 2010-13, March 2011

Minnesota Management and Budget, General Fund: Fund Balance Analysis, Governor's Revised Recommendations, March 16, 2011

Minnesota Management and Budget, February 2011 Budget Forecast, accessed April 19, 2011

Interview, Rep. Steve Gottwalt, April 19, 2011

Interview, Bill Marx, Chief Fiscal Analysis, Minnesota House of Representatives, April 19, 2011

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