Editorial: Everyone wants a piece of the budget surplus
Great news: Minnesota has a nearly $2 billion budget surplus. Bad news: Of course there’s already a fight on how to spend it. Officials announced Thursday morning that the surplus is more than double what lawmakers had when they finished up their work in June. The number technically drops to $1.2 billion when $665 million is allocated to reserves and to make payments required by state law, but it’s still at more than $1 billion surplus. Minnesota’s two-year budget funded by state taxpayers is $42 billion. Put into perspective, $1 billion isn’t that huge compared to $42 billion, but it’s sure a lot to the citizens of Minnesota paying it. Now of course, since a surplus has been identified, everybody and their brother have an idea of how it should be spent. Not to mention plenty of political jabs being said about how terrible the other party is and deliver on nothing promised. Anyway, most spending ideas are good ideas — it’s just a matter of picking what’s best and not spreading it so thin it benefits nothing in the end. Gov. Mark Dayton wants to increase education spending every year and in recent days began advocating for money to help reduce economic disparities between black and white Minnesotans. Education is always a good thing for the state to spend money on. More funds to schools would be great so kindergarteners wouldn’t have to sell cookies to raise funds for a playground.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann said the GOP’s priority for added money is immediately approving the roads and bridges plan put forward by Republicans in the 2015 session and give the rest of the surplus back to taxpayers. Better roads are good, and hey, who wouldn’t like some tax money returned home. Robert Broeder, mayor of Le Sueur and president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, thinks the surplus should be used to increase funding for Local Government Aid (LGA). “City leaders across the state are hopeful that with a $1.8 billion budget surplus, legislators will seize this opportunity to invest in critical needs in Greater Minnesota, starting with an increase in LGA.
Because the Legislature failed to pass a tax bill last session, LGA is one of the few budget issues still up in the air. Again, money back to rural Minnesota is great for communities like ours. All area cities have had funding cut over the years, and that translates into higher property taxes to cover the difference. “Lawmakers should not squander this historic opportunity,” Broeder went on to say. “Now is the time to invest in Minnesota communities and the result will be better roads, safer neighborhoods and stronger businesses.” Agreed. Let’s hope the city leaders don’t “squander” it if it does come back to them. DFL Chairman Ken Martin said, “With this surplus, we have the opportunity to meet the unmet needs that were put off and are now in crisis like transportation and infrastructure, education and other disparities. There is no shortage of ways to spend the surplus, let’s just hope that our leaders find the best way(s) for the best of all of us that paid that money in the first place.