Two years ago, Minnesota was facing a half-billion-dollar budget deficit, the state’s savings account was nearly dry and the DFL Legislature was in the final stages of crafting a two-year budget to finally put Minnesota on solid financial footing. Republicans accused Democrats of overspending, overtaxing and not being careful with Minnesota’s still-fragile economy.
Today — at the end of the two-year budget cycle — the deficit has turned into a $1.9 billion surplus, the budget reserve is at the highest level in history and Minnesotans are benefiting from historic investments in priorities like all-day kindergarten. Now, Republicans, who accused the 2013 investments of being too rich, are clamoring to send every penny of the state’s surplus out the door.
The Republican tax bill cuts more than $2 billion in taxes (resulting in $4.5 billion in cuts once all provisions are phased in). If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. Republicans claim they are helping the middle class, but in reality they give the middle class a one-time tax break, while the very rich get ongoing tax cuts — which unsustainably balloon our budget in the future. This does not responsibly build a better Minnesota.
If we have learned anything from the first decade of the 2000s, it’s that economic recoveries can disappear in a flash. Senate Democrats have crafted a budget with an eye to the future. We dedicate $250 million to the budget reserve and undo accounting shifts from previous legislatures. While we do not spend every dime, we do give a significant portion of the surplus back to Minnesotans. We keep Minnesota moving forward by focusing on Minnesota’s youngest learners, property taxpayers, our veterans, and college students and their families.
Half of our investments are dedicated to students. We invest in our earliest learners to ensure that they are ready for kindergarten by expanding affordable, proven pre-K options. We expand the state’s education credit, which benefits at least 16,800 new families paying for early learning or E-12 expenses, saving the average household $285 every year.
Every property taxpayer will see property tax relief from the Senate DFL budget — including farmers, businesses, and home and cabin owners. We reduce the statewide business property tax and extend more refunds to farmers and homeowners who have seen the highest property tax increases.
We also continue the state’s important partnership with local governments by providing local government aid to cities and towns across the state — treating all equally under the formula.
Our budget focuses on our 369,000 veterans. Since 2001, Minnesota has had one of the highest veteran unemployment rates — especially those serving since 9/11. To address this problem, we offer the Veterans Jobs Credit to businesses that hire unemployed veterans.
We provide equitable funding to the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and University of Minnesota systems to hold tuition down. Our budget creates a program for qualifying high school graduates to receive two free years of school at MnSCU campuses for degrees in high-demand industries. We also invest in the U’s medical school and expand the state grant program to help our students afford their degree.
Senate Democrats make responsible, strategic investments in priorities — like transportation — that are shared by all Minnesotans. We invest in a comprehensive transportation plan with dedicated and reliable funding to finally fix our roads and bridges and provide transit options in communities throughout Minnesota.
In contrast stand the Republican priorities: a budget built on a $1.07 billion cut in health care services for hospitals, workers and seniors, which eliminates affordable health insurance for 90,000 working Minnesotans, and an inadequate and unstable transportation plan that relies on shifts, gimmicks and confiscating money from current programs.
These same, tired shifts and gimmicks will derail our state’s economy, and when that occurs they will be borrowing once again from our schools and children. We cannot repeat the Republicans’ failed history of greater reliance on property taxes, runaway tuition increases at public colleges and universities, and higher fees on everything from fishing licenses to court fees. Minnesota cannot afford their risky budget.
The Senate DFL has crafted a responsible and transparent budget. Our budget keeps Minnesota moving forward — through responsible investments that will benefit our citizens for generations to come.
Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, is majority leader of the Minnesota Senate. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, is chair of Senate Finance Committee.