11/15/2012 9:10:00 AM County anticipates fall-out from fiscal cliff
by DENISE MARTIN
With the election behind them-- Chisago county commissioners are now able to develop a roadmap for navigating some federal issues that had the potential to change, depending on the outcome of the vote. One is the “fiscal cliff” which refers to “automatic” federal spending cuts as of January 2, 2013 and which was the big concern of commissioners last week.
These budget cuts affect federally-funded programs as of 2013 because a “super committee” of congressmembers didn’t develop an agreement on reducing spending when it met last year. The Federal Budget Control Act of 2011 starts “sequestration” in January unless U.S. senators and representatives in D.C. act to revise implementation. Chisago County Administrator Bruce Messelt said with a post-election lame duck session, he isn’t sure much effort will be made to address the “fiscal cliff.” County taxpayers better brace themselves, he said. A majority of expenses at the county level are paying for mandates from up-high, and it will be a challenge maintaining services to older folks, infants, the poor and others without funding. County commissioners heard about expected loss of federal funds that had flowed to the county highway department, to county-based housing and redevelopment programs, justice and homeland safety, and social services. When the Budget Control Act set up the “super committee” (which didn’t identify and establish needed cuts of about $1 Trillion) the sequestration trigger requires federal spending on defense and non-defense accounts be reduced equally in each year for nine years. There are 149 exempt programs; but these are in areas like crop insurance, social security, grants to airports, Pell grants, etc.
Chisago County can expect program funds to be cut by 7.6 percent in areas like public health, payments in lieu of taxes on federal lands, federal aid for highway projects, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and food stamps. Law enforcement funding and prosecution preventive aid, as domestic discretionary accounts, are slated for an 8.2 percent reduction. Medicare is slated for a two percent cut. County Administrator Messelt said statewide-- all of Minnesota’s counties will take a $32.7 million loss in federal funding just in the first part of the 2013 sequestration. Nationally the cuts are $54.6 billion in non-defense spending and $54.6 billion in defense expense cuts.
County Board Chair George McMahon asked staff to invite newly-elected U.S. 8th Dist. Congressman Rick Nolan to attend a county commissioners’ meeting and discuss the impacts and options. McMahon commented that the out-going congressman didn’t communicate well with locally based elected officials, and maybe the Board can have some input now. County HHS Director Nancy Dahlin also mentioned that she has an appointment to meet with Sen. Al Franken soon to review impacts the county faces due to federal budgeting. Consensus was that the County Board needs to let everybody know how imperative it is to contact congress persons and ask that they work in a bi-partisan manner to compromise on cuts and balance deficit reductions, along with looking at revenue when seeking solutions, according to the national counties’ association. It is the position of NACO or the National Assoc. of Counties, said Messelt, that there must be a more balanced approach to deficit reductions. It is unrealistic and regressive to expect counties to shoulder so much of the spending shifts, he concluded.