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GUEST VIEWS: Local political parties weigh in on state budget surplus

The Pine Journal asked the local political parties to weigh in on the following question: 

With a $1.65 billion surplus in Minnesota, how should state lawmakers handle the budget and what should they prioritize?

Here's what they said:

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party response

Could anyone imagine that we’d even be considering what our priorities would be in spending a $1.65 billion surplus in the State’s budget? Consider that less than 10 years ago we were trying to prioritize what needed to be saved from severe budget cuts.

I am hearing talk about doing the same thing that Jesse “The Body” Ventura did. Give it back to the taxpayer. Do we all remember how well that turned out? Before the end of his term, we were right back in the hole. Then years of Pawlenty cuts in school funding, infrastructure, Human Services cuts, all while still seeing the need to cut taxes. We saw how that turned out as well. Increases in your property taxes as mandated services were still required and needed, and the only way to pay for them was through property taxes. School districts raised funding that had been cut from the State through excess levy referendums.

Last session the majority thought that tax cuts were again the answer. Cuts in the tobacco tax! Really? We need to give back to the cigarette industry? As a smoker, I don’t think we need to make them cheap enough so that more kids get hooked on smokes. This is not the time to even consider tax relief. Plus, if people want to be honest, we didn’t pay any additional taxes that gave us this surplus. This surplus was created by a billionaire for billionaires! Thank you, Mark Dayton, for a very bold move that didn’t touch any but the top 2 percent of the earners in our state! Let’s be honest folks, how many want to give it back to those who gave?

As our neighboring states took another route in the financial crash and recovery, we were the only state in our area that raised taxes. So, how does that look today? Minnesota’s unemployment rate is at 3.7 percent with private sector earnings up 1.5 percent to $891 per week, 47,000 new jobs last year, while beating Kansas, Wisconsin, and Illinois in job growth with an actual surplus of $1.8 billion. Forbes ranked us ninth in its table of best states to do business in. Compare that to Kansas at 25th, Wisconsin at 32nd and Illinois at 40th. So, our millionaire and billionaire tax increase certainly has not hurt business in any way. Wisconsin is facing a $2.2 billion-dollar shortfall, Kansas appears to have an $800 million shortfall and Illinois is trying to fix a 6 billion shortfall.

So, if I had my way as a Carlton County Democrat with some elected experience, I’d save most of the surplus because of the uncertainty of our federal government and whatever damage they will do as they dance back to the fabulous ’50s. I am quite sure that a health insurance program will have to be recreated from the ashes. We already have two state-run insurance companies that I have had the privilege to chair, that work wonderfully.

My spending priorities would certainly be transportation and infrastructure projects understanding that there will probably be no federal funding for wastewater treatment, or water projects any longer.

My second priority would be experimental very pre-school classes in distressed neighborhoods. The legislature would have to monitor the spending of these funds carefully so that they get to the targeted kids. If we do this right, we can help curb generational poverty, and creates lives that these kids deserve to live.

Another dream would be to establish and require apprenticeships with businesses and the unions in every school district for those high school kids who are not college bound. I would remove silly requirements that a child have to pass Algebra 2 in order to graduate high school with one of these technical degrees. Electricians, plumbers, pipe fitters, bricklayers and many other careers I don’t see listed on our technical schools’ offerings are getting harder and harder to find. A union partnership is a great answer.

Patty Murto

Writer Patty Murto was a Carlton County Commissioner and she is a DFL party activist. She is also a regular on Harry's Gang, a CAT-7 talk show that focuses on politics.

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Republican Party response

Another mild winter has left us with lower-than-average energy costs — and this consideration: For those of you who use or are familiar with “budget billing,” you have probably noticed there have been some months where you paid more than what was consumed.

For others who are unfamiliar with this business practice, it goes something like this: companies that provide us with the energy to fuel our homes and businesses will forecast, based on consumption in previous years, what your monthly average will be for the year and charge you one-twelfth of that amount each month. Each time you receive a bill, it will reflect either a shortage or a credit. Now imagine if you were overpaying each month and the energy company decided that it was in your own best interest to keep your money and spend it for you.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that would sit well with most of us and this analogy is imperative when examining the above question.

Minnesotans have paid too many taxes and now the state is left with an overage. This is not to say there was any nefarious planning done by our governor or our lawmakers to achieve such a surplus, but we (the Carlton County GOP) would like — no, demand — our elected officials to recognize that money belongs to the hard-working Minnesotans who paid taxes before they ever consider spending a dime of it.

The Carlton County GOP, in-step with the Minnesota GOP, are not going to wave their hands around and demand all the money be returned; there are great needs throughout the state that have been neglected, such as our aging infrastructure, or the condition of our roads. These are necessary expenditures that will not go away by avoiding them and provides an opportunity to put thousands to work.

I presented the above question to my 13-year-old son and this young man produced an answer you would not expect coming from someone so young:

“Why don’t we just save it? I mean, just because we have extra money now doesn’t mean it will always be that way in the future.”

Right you are, my boy. In fact, by law, that is exactly what is required. A portion of this surplus will be allocated to the General Reserve Fund in the tune of about $350-400 million.

Where should the rest go?

This state needs to first provide tax relief, proportionate to those who have paid in, across the board, in the form of tax credits. Additionally, within this tax bill, the state legislators need to take into consideration providing relief to business owners.

Currently, Minnesota’s corporate tax rate is the third highest in the nation and despite what the Democrats may say about Minnesota’s businesses being robust, our job growth in 2016 was at an anemic 1.3 percent according to Forbes “Best States for Business.” Forbes also points out that Minnesota ranks 34th for both “business cost” as well as “growth prospects.” For businesses to grow, expand and create new jobs, they first need the capital to get started.

Not a lot was accomplished last session and none bigger than the transportation bill. The price tag could not be agreed upon by the legislature, but needs to get done this time around. There isn’t a lawmaker at the Capitol that would disagree with this statement, however the legislators need to be careful as to how much they are spending to meet those demands across the state.

What is a political discussion without bringing President Trump into the conversation?

Legislators need to be mindful that with the proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the replacement may end up shifting some of the financial burden to the states. This is very difficult to forecast, but our lawmakers need to tread cautiously and not commit the entire surplus until a clearer picture is provided from Washington.

Let’s spend responsibly and put money back where it needs to go, in the pockets of Minnesotans.

Uriah Wilkinson

Writer Uriah Wilkinson is a former candidate for State Representative and has been active in local politics over the past 19 years.

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