As Minnesotans dream of warmer weather, the end of school and summer vacation, the Legislature is focused on its May 21 constitutional deadline for adjournment. A lot of good work has already been accomplished here in St. Paul, from cleaning up a toxic waste dump to successfully negotiating a bipartisan plan to keep improving the MNLARS system. But the real work of our session is just beginning.
The real work of the 2019 session is passing a two-year budget that is balanced. While the federal government can roll up more than $20 trillion in debt, Minnesota cannot kick the can down the road.
The Republican Senate uses the projected $1 billion surplus to put forth a budget that funds our priorities without raising any new taxes. The Senate budget is not stingy — it includes $900 million in new funding for our schools and $1.65 billion in new spending for health care and human services. The overall Senate budget increases spending around 5%, largely due to the autopilot nature of some of our biggest government programs.
As is often the case, we have divided government again in Minnesota, which is never easy. This year Democrats who control the executive branch and the House have proposed almost twice as much new spending as the Senate. Gov. Tim Walz’s budget would increase spending 8.5%, and the House DFL budget grows 9.5%. They pay for this new spending with more than $12 billion in tax increases on every Minnesotan over the next four years. And that does not even include the enormous cost of their plan to provide government-run health care in Minnesota.
Certainly, solving the divide between big tax increases and no tax increases will be one of our biggest challenges in the 2019 session. We are already the third-highest-taxed state in the country, which is why Republicans are focused on protecting the taxpayer.
Compounding the budget challenge will be all the new ideas Walz promised on the campaign trail that Republicans think are unworkable or too expensive for Minnesota. For example, increasing our gas tax 20 cents per gallon to put more money into transportation is not workable and, frankly, unnecessary. We already have $8 billion available for transportation spending for the next two years, of which more than $530 million is new money.
Republicans made roads and bridges a priority in the last budget, and there is plenty of money in the system to fix potholes and improve our infrastructure. Remember, someone has to pay for all of these campaign promises, and in the case of the gas tax, it’s everyone — rich and poor.
Another idea that sounds good on the surface but ends up being expensive and unworkable is paid family leave for all. The Walz/DFL proposal will create a new payroll tax that would cost employees and employers another billion dollars a year. Almost 75% of Minnesota workers receive at least some sort of pay when they are out of work for family or medical reasons. Most employees would rather keep the money they have with the benefits they have, rather than seeing a new tax on their paychecks each month.
My Republican colleagues in the Senate have an equal number of policy ideas that the House and governor would find impossible to accept. So, what’s the solution? Let’s focus on producing a reasonable two-year budget that balances, takes care of Minnesotans and watches out for the folks who have to pay for everything. If we focus on these three things, we will get done on time and Minnesota will have a budget everyone can be proud of.
Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is majority leader of the Minnesota Senate.