Since Republicans took charge of both chambers of the Legislature in January, a tussle with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton over taxes and spending policy has been a sure bet. Still, the differences in the new House, Senate and gubernatorial budget bids for the 2018-19 biennium are startlingly large — and worrisome, given the weak capacity for compromise that Minnesota's legislative and executive branches have exhibited in recent years.
For example: Dayton's budget calls for $300 million in tax relief, much of it targeted to low-income families. The Senate GOP majority called Thursday for a tax cut three times that size. The GOP majority in the House — which must originate tax bills — tipped its hand Monday. It seeks $1.35 billion in tax cuts that would consume all but $300 million of a projected $1.65 billion surplus. That's four and a half times larger than the Dayton proposal.
Those numbers apply only to 2018-19. But the tax plans that Republican leaders have outlined include features that would take an ever-larger bite from state revenue in succeeding years. Those GOP intentions almost seem chosen to test Dayton's oft-stated resolve to hand his successor in 2019 a fiscally sound state budget, which he says is his proudest achievement after a long run of deficits.
When tax cuts grow, spending must shrink, in keeping with the state Constitution's balanced-budget requirement. The Republican budgets anticipate spending cuts in a number of as-yet-unspecified state agencies.
The GOP approach to education funding is bound to be a sore point with Dayton. The governor has made an increase in early education funding a top priority. If the GOP budgets allow for such an increase, it's not evident in E-12 and higher education spending targets that fall well below Dayton's. The House's bid is up $460 million from the forecast base for 2018-19; the Senate is at $390 million, and Dayton is at $1.03 billion as of Friday, when he called for more funding for school district preschool programs.
Between now and a May 22 adjournment deadline, Dayton and the Legislature are obliged to reconcile those differences. Readers can count on the Editorial Board to weigh in with a budget plan of its own. We'll aim for compromise between the competing plans at the Capitol because we think that's what Minnesotans expect. We hope legislators think so, too.