A Republican state senator said he suspects that the Walz administration’s recent budget cuts to programs in his district are politically motivated.
In a statement released Monday, state Sen. Jason Rarick, R-Pine City, raised concerns about “cuts within state agencies” that have been “disproportionately placed on Senate District 11 and the surrounding area.”
Rarick won a special election to represent Senate District 11 in February 2019 after the seat was vacated by former Sen. Tony Lourey, who was appointed to serve as Gov. Tim Walz’s commissioner for the Department of Human Services. Lourey’s mother, Becky, represented the district for 10 years and his son, Stu, lost to Rarick in the 2019 special election.
“Senate District 11 was a flipped seat when I took my oath of office two years ago, meaning Democratic politicians had previously held it for quite some time. Many factors contribute to deciding program cuts, but it is unlikely that the governor-appointed commissioners would cut three needed programs from a single area without some political motive, especially in an election year,” Rarick said.
He claimed he has yet to receive a “satisfactory explanation” for the budget cuts, which have impacted programs like WINDOW Victim Advocacy, the Challenge Incarceration Program at Willow River, and the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake. All three programs have been threatened with shutdowns or lost their funding.
The WINDOW Victim Advocacy program, which served victims of violence and sexual abuse, lost its funding because it had “incomplete paperwork” on file with the Department of Public Safety.
“Even after the organization hired an individual solely to fix their paperwork problem, DPS decided to remove their funding, forcing WINDOW to shut down. A new group has come in to start from scratch. This move negatively impacted many victims and left them vulnerable, searching for other nearby resources,” said Rarick.
The Department of Corrections then canceled the Challenge Incarceration Program at Willow River, which helped non-violent offenders learn “valuable skills to benefit them upon release,” according to Rarick.
Department of Human Services Commissioner Jodi Harpstead announced last week that the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program at Moose Lake would be losing its funding as well. Rarick said the program offered rehabilitation and reintegration services for inmates.
“Two highly successful programs and one necessary program accounted for a practically minuscule amount of each agency’s budgets. Defunding one or two of these programs would be unfortunate, and I would have fought those decisions. However, with the advent of this third announcement for MSOP, I have begun to wonder about motive,” Rarick added.
He acknowledged that the state must begin reevaluating agency budgets “in the face of deep budget deficits,” but said it’s “extremely unusual for state agencies to allow one outstate area to take the heaviest hit,” since these areas are smaller and more financially insignificant.
“It is entirely possible to spread the burden more evenly,” he concluded. “These programs are too valuable to our state and area to be squashed for slight offenses or petty political motives.”