After Minnesotans elected DFL majorities in our State House and Senate last November to work with a DFL governor, many people asked us what they could expect in this legislative session. Our answer was: Progress.
First, however, we had to extract our state from the deep fiscal hole left to us two years before. This February forecast projected a $627 million budget deficit for the next two fiscal years, beginning July 1. It meant that we were again behind before we started.
Despite the financial obstacles, we crafted a balanced approach to righting the state’s fiscal ship, then moving it ahead. It is the first state budget in a decade that actually balances honestly, and without resort to accounting gimmicks.
As important, our budget starts looking beyond short-term crises and further down the road. We are building a better Minnesota by investing in priorities shared broadly by Minnesotans.
Foremost, our budget will provide our children the better educations they need for brighter futures. Minnesota’s long-term economic competitiveness hinges on our ability to deliver a world-class education for our kids.
For that reason, we invested more than $735 million in education, from preschool through college. As a result, every Minnesota child will soon have access to free, all-day kindergarten. Parents who were paying thousands of dollars to send their kids to all-day kindergarten won’t have to pay a dime. Thousands of children whose families couldn’t afford those costs will now receive the substantial academic benefits of full-day learning. And those schools that have been diverting other funds to offer kindergarten will be able to use that money for other needs.
Our budget ensures that thousands more young learners also will be able to attend high-quality preschool and child-care programs. Early learning scholarships will save families up to $5,000 per year, per student — and our state will take a big step forward in narrowing its achievement gap.
After a decade of steep tuition increases, students at the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities campuses will benefit from tuition freezes for the next two years. And more than 100,000 State Grant Program recipients from low- and middle-income families will receive additional financial aid to pursue their higher educations.
By improving our elementary and secondary education systems and making higher education more affordable, we can continue to offer businesses the country’s best workforce and give Minnesotans the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in this global economy.
But with thousands of Minnesotans still unemployed, we also took bold action this session to help put our state back to work. We made major investments that will provide thousands of good-paying jobs. They include major expansions by Mayo Clinic, 3M, the Mall of America and others that will create thousands of construction jobs and thousands more for operations. Those public investments will leverage billions of dollars in private investment in our state’s economy. We also increased the incentives we can offer new or expanding businesses to choose Minnesota.
And we paid for these investments honestly and progressively. The very highest income earners and some large corporations will pay more in taxes. Except for smokers, middle-class Minnesotans will pay the same state income or sales tax rates while realizing the benefits from $441 million in additional property tax relief, which reverses the property tax increases that resulted from the previous Legislature’s policies.
Moving forward, Minnesota still faces many challenges. But the work we did together this session — the work Minnesotans elected us to do — has made the state better. We did what we promised, and we believe Minnesotans from all walks of life will be better for it.
Mark Dayton is governor of Minnesota. Paul Thissen is speaker of the House. Tom Bakk is Senate majority leader.