White Bear Lake wrestles with the state budget deficit

by Laura McCallum, Molly Bloom, Michael Caputo, Minnesota Public Radio
February 21, 2009

Minnesota state leaders have some hard work ahead forging a state budget that has a multi-billion dollar deficit. But the struggling also must be done by communities in Minnesota. In that light, we gathered together people in one community who are tackling the realities of a tight state budget proposal — that community, White Bear Lake.

St. Paul, Minn. — About 30 residents of White Bear Lake came together in a classroom at Century College, along with three community leaders representing the city, the state and the business sector: White Bear Lake City Manager Mark Sather, State Sen. Sandy Rummel, DFL-White Bear Lake, and the executive director of the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce, Billy Dinkel.

The conversation revolved around what this community would tolerate when it came to state budget cuts and state tax increases. This forum, held on Feb. 12, was scheduled shortly after Gov. Tim Pawlenty released his budget proposal. And it also came after Minnesota Public Radio News devoted a week's worth of stories exploring the impact of the state budget on White Bear Lake. The following audio segment explains this connection to MPR's news coverage, and also contains the start of the forum itself.

The conversation moved quickly to the proposed cuts in the governor's budget, and what their impact might be (click the audio below for this segment).

Since the discussion was being held at Century College, it made sense to talk about higher education (the audio is below).

Among those who attended the discussion were people who sat on the local school board or worked in the school district's administration. They talked to K-12 education funding (audio below).

The conversation circled back to the threat of state cuts and the need to rein in spending.

A woman who runs a local arts organization, Suzi Hudson, made a pitch for maintaining funding for local arts programs.

The discussion became more pointed when it turned to the issue of tax increases, specifically raising the sales tax.

The participants began tackling the notion of cutting salaries for public employees. Those in the public sector answered back.

White Bear Lake has had a fairly large "rainy day fund" — or a fund to deal with emergencies. And people in the forum wanted to know how that fund was being used.

Public health care spending was mentioned by one participant as an area where fat could be trimmed. That lead to a broader discussion of paying for state health insurance.

Finally the people in the forum were asked a simple question: With the state's budget deficit so large — where do we go from here?