Despite a projected budget surplus that now stands at $1.5 billion, Republicans in the Minnesota House and Senate continue to push hard this session for significant spending cuts within state government.
The Minnesota Secretary of State's office is among their many targets.
Secretary of State Steve Simon proudly boasts that his office is a net contributor to the state budget. The fees it charges for a variety of business services bring in about $20 million more than the actual cost of operations.
Simon, a Democrat, said he's been reminding legislators about that as they consider budget cuts, which add up to an 18 percent hit in the House budget and 7.5 percent in the Senate.
"Be careful not to kill or at least harm the golden goose," he said. "While $20 million from the standpoint of a $40-plus billion budget is not a gigantic windfall, this is one of the few areas of the state government that actually makes money."
Under DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's budget proposal, funding for the secretary of state's office would remain flat. The governor and legislators will decide on the final number as they negotiate the larger two-year state budget.
Simon said the proposed cuts would result in noticeable slowdowns and delays for business filings as well as the administration of elections. He said staff layoffs are also a possible consequence.
"I fear that if at the end of the day these cuts prevail, and we don't know that yet, it's early enough in the process, it's going to hurt," Simon said. "It's going to hurt a lot of people."
One of the legislators Simon needs to convince is Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. Kiffmeyer has experience with the office. She also has experience with budget cuts. Kiffmeyer chairs the Senate state government committee and she was secretary of state from 1999 to 2007. During that time, the office was dealt a 15 percent cut.
Looking back, Kiffmeyer said she was able to do "quite well," even with less funding. She said there were no reduced services and the revenue stream from fees continued.
"We not only survived it, but we actually found savings that in my frugal approach to things even I didn't yet know," she said. "There were things in there that we could readily do differently and were able to claim significant savings.
"Sometimes you don't fund them until you're in a situation where you have to."
The cut lawmakers handed Kiffmeyer and other government offices came at a time when the state was running a big budget deficit. This year there's a big surplus. But Republicans are intent on giving much of that money back to taxpayers. They're also intent on trimming the size of state government.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, the chair of the House state government committee, said she wants to roll back department and constitutional office budgets to where they were five years ago. Anderson said she doesn't think it's a heavy lift.
"I think overall, in this administration, government has grown by significant amounts," she said. "What we're asking for them is to live a little bit more in line with how Minnesotans have had to live."