It’s not Christmas yet

The latest Minnesota budget forecast on Thursday was particularly rosy. State finance officials are predicting a surplus of more than $1 billion at the end of the current biennium. That’s a nice change from the doom-and-gloom billion-dollar deficit predictions of a few years ago.

This is great news for school districts, who will get the last of the money – $246 million in delayed payments that the state borrowed from them during the deficit years. The state also intends to replenish $15 million taken from an airport account five years ago to balance the state’s budget.

That leaves another $825 million that will undoubtedly be the subject of much discussion in the upcoming legislative session.

But those who are lining up with their hands out should realize it’s not Christmas yet. The money will not be in the bank until the current budget ends in 2014. And $825 million will certainly not be enough to cover all the wish lists in the state.

Gov. Dayton said he is not going to consider new spending proposals until after the February budget forecast, about the time the next session starts.

The governor favors using $231 million to repeal the three poorly conceived business-to-business taxes, including a sales tax on farm equipment repairs, telecommunications supplies, and commercial warehousing services. There should have been a special session to repeal these this past fall, but DFLers wanted to know where the money would come from to replace them. Now we have the money, the taxes should go. Dayton would also target middle class tax relief, which would certainly be welcome around the state.

The Legislature should consider carefully what to do with the rest of the funds. There will be no shortage of ideas, and legislators should be ready to say no, unless someone can make a compelling argument for the new spending.

One group that is already putting in a bid for funding, and it is a pretty compelling bid, is the coalition of disability and senior care organizations that would like to see a five percent pay hike for the caregivers who serve the disabled and seniors. These workers have not had a pay hike in five years, and lord knows they are underpaid for the kind of work they do. The group estimates it would take $86 million to give them the raise, and it’s hard to disagree with this proposal.

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