If you’re looking for guidance, it can be found in Minnesota’s recent past.
The case for reserves is found in recent history
As I have been following the news about our latest budget surplus, one of the comments I’ve heard is that it is the largest projection since 1999. You may remember that surplus and the steps taken to deal with it. It was the result of efforts to fix the state budget after the recession in the early ’90s and the strong economy in the latter half of that decade.
New Gov. Jesse Ventura and the Legislature decided to give most of that surplus back to the taxpayers through tax cuts and rebates. Most of us were willing to take this largesse — although many also worried that the state was weakening its economic position and would be in trouble at the next downturn. Of course, there was another recession, and we paid the price for those overly generous tax breaks and rebates.
Are we going to learn from our mistakes of 15 years ago? Or are we going to use the current surplus to try to buy votes in this year’s election? My vote is to build our reserves and to invest in higher education and transportation.
Jim Weygand, Carver
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I do think the ill-conceived business-to-business taxes should be eliminated immediately, with any applicable rebates specifically to those people. But the remainder of the surplus is a different story. When the economy is doing better (like now), we should be building reserves — budget cuts and tax increases during a future recession will be far more painful than allowing a surplus to run now.
Corey Redfield, Minnetonka
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The surplus is projected at $1.2 billion. Some of it should be used to cut spending and, at the same time, make peace between the parties.
Republicans argue we are spending too much money. Democrats should agree, because it’s true. One of the biggest spending ratholes is the enormous cost of cleaning up the mess when our youths fail to grow into productive citizens. Too many children are lost due to a combination of inadequate brain development and poor physical health.
Research shows that a good start in life is crucial for kids. When that doesn’t happen, the social costs required include intervention, special education, corrective costs, social services, crime, courts, law enforcement and finally imprisonment. For just one child, it can run into millions.
The solution isn’t complicated — early childhood education for all. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 85 percent of Americans consider it an “absolute priority.” How good would such an investment be? Economists at the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis concluded that the real return is an amazing 16 percent per year. They also compared early childhood education with other public investments like infrastructure (roads, bridges), and found that nothing comes close.
The lead researcher is Art Rolnick, a former vice president at the Minneapolis Fed who is now teaching at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. See for yourself by googling “Art Rolnick” and “TED Talk.” If you are a taxpayer, it will knock your socks off!
David Strand, Aitkin, Minn.
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I’d like to see some of the surplus dedicated to mental-health services and facilities, especially in rural areas of our state. I can think of few better ways to spend this money.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.