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Using our Common Cents

What actions should policymakers take to solve a $5 billion state budget deficit? How can Minnesotans help create solutions, and how ready are they to change their relationship with public programs?

More than 500 Minnesotans participated in 36 conversations convened in late 2010 and early 2011 by the Citizens League and TakeAction Minnesota, working in partnership with the Foundation. At the sessions, promoted as Common Cents, attendees reviewed data about the Minnesota state budget, then participated in small-group discussions that explored the impact of and ideas for resolving our budget challenges. The results of each meeting were compiled at, where the discussion continued.

Briefly, the report found that Minnesotans:

  • Support reforming, rather than reducing, services such as K-12 education, health care and social programs.
  • Will invest in maintaining quality of life but want spending focused on innovation and reform.
  • Desire tax structure reform.
  • See spending cuts as a short-term solution only.
  • Want to better understand and be involved in the budgeting process.

In December 2010, Wilder Research, on behalf of the Bush Foundation, conducted a complementary survey of Minnesotans to examine public attitudes about the challenges facing their communities, the leadership necessary to confront those challenges, and their willingness to change their expectations and do things differently. The survey also served to test the validity of some of the findings from the Common Cents gatherings.

Survey respondents identified the top three problems they see as affecting their quality of life.  The four issues that appeared on that list most often were education (54%), government budgets (39%), the economy/jobs (39%) and health care (35%). Most respondents (68%) believed that the state budget situation has reached crisis levels and that solving the crisis will require difficult decisions.

When asked about what those difficult decisions should entail, respondents were open to both revenue and expenditure solutions. While 35% said they were not willing to pay more in taxes under any circumstances, 60% said they would be willing to pay more in taxes if:

  • They would get more for their money.
  • The tax system would be fair.
  • Only certain types of taxes would increase.
  • The purpose would be to avoid cuts to vital services.

On the expenditure front, 45% of respondents wanted spending to stay at current levels, while 31% preferred a decrease in spending and 24% preferred an increase. Respondents’ top priorities for funding were education, health care, long-term care and higher education. When asked which funding areas were most in need of reform in order to ensure effective use of taxpayer dollars, respondents focused on education and health care.

See the findings





Learn more about similar community engagement initiatives in North Dakota and South Dakota, or about Beyond the Bottom Line, a proposal to the Minnesota Legislature to reform government services.