When I was elected speaker of the House, the last role I thought I’d play was mediator between two leaders from the other political party.
But that was the situation I found myself in earlier this session, when Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Gov. Mark Dayton disagreed about how to move forward after the governor gave double-digit pay raises to his commissioners.
Following their public dispute, I drove to the governor’s residence myself, sat with him and worked through the differences.
I think most people would say that I walked away from that meeting with an agreement no one thought was possible: freezing the pay increases and restoring legislative oversight of commissioner salaries.
My thought was — why should the governor’s political appointees get such a huge pay raise when Minnesota families aren’t receiving that kind of an increase?
My perspective when it comes to the state budget is simple. I believe government spending should not grow faster than family budgets.
Seventy-three percent of state general fund revenue comes from income tax and sales tax. In order for our state budget to do well, we need Minnesotans to do well.
The problem is that Minnesota families’ budgets have increased just 12 percent from 2000 to 2013. Meanwhile, the governor and Senate Democrats have proposed budgets under which government spending will have increased 75 percent since 2000.
Minnesota is currently projected to collect nearly $2 billion more than it needs in 2016-17. This surplus is due in large part to low gas prices, which left more money in the pockets of Minnesota families and improved Minnesota’s economy.
At a time when we have almost a $2 billion surplus, the governor and Senate Democrats are proposing the largest gas tax increase in state history to pay for a core function of state government: our roads and bridges.
It’s just not logical.
The Democrats’ plan will take money directly out of the pockets of Minnesota families, which will hurt their family budgets and Minnesota’s economy. What’s worse? The gas tax is one of the most regressive taxes, hurting low-income families the most.
Republicans put together a 10-year, $7 billion investment in our state’s roads and bridges without raising taxes. Over the next decade, our plan will repair or replace 15,500 lane miles and 330 bridges statewide, and we can do this without raising any new taxes.
While Democrats want to talk funding for transportation over the next 10 years, they have refused to look at any other part of the state budget beyond the next two years.
Frankly, budgeting by only looking out two years is just like a family living paycheck to paycheck. We need to start considering how the decisions we make today will affect our children and grandchildren 10 years from now.
Before the end of the decade, for instance, there will be more senior citizens living in Minnesota than K-12 students. During recent visits to Albert Lea and Apple Valley, I listened to Minnesotans’ concerns about caring for their aging loved ones. I learned that reforming the way our state pays for long-term care today could improve the quality of care and aging adults’ quality of life in the long run.
In response, our budget proposes to spend $138 million in new money for this long-term care reform, far more than the governor and Senate Democrats’ budgets have committed. And in that same budget area, we are also aggressively pursuing savings by eliminating waste and fraud in public programs. We can’t just look to find efficiencies when the state faces a deficit; we need to ensure that we are spending every dollar effectively and efficiently even when we have a surplus.
Additionally, House Republicans’ budget increases funding for K-12 education, including key investments for our youngest students and long-overdue reforms to empower teachers. We make a responsible deposit of $150 million in our rainy-day fund and still provide significant tax relief for middle-class families, college students, farmers, veterans and job creators. Minnesota families prioritize within their budgets every day, and they should expect that same reasonable approach from lawmakers.
I look forward to continue working with Sen. Bakk and Gov. Dayton. I will stand up for solutions I believe are best-suited to address the problems facing Minnesotans, but I am willing to listen to the alternative. I know we won’t agree on everything.
My challenge to Bakk and Dayton: Let’s set aside our differences and find common ground to do what’s right for Minnesotans, for the next two years, the next 10 years and beyond.
Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, is speaker of the Minnesota House.