The Minnesota Legislature is in session now, in a short session that typically focuses on bail, but is boosted this year by the projected $7 billion surplus in the state budget.
While we don’t want the state to go on a spending spree, there are things the state could and should fund as long as it has the money.
Education is always a good investment. While Democrats and Republicans may argue over how and where to spend money on education, there really is no such thing as bad spending on education. Given the rate of inflation we all face, the 2% per-student funding increase in the K-12 funding formula proposed by Governor Walz is not exactly out of place. Sure, we can focus more spending on programs that show results in test scores, as Republicans would like, but schools have rising costs, and many of them are too reliant on special tax levies.
Higher education is another area. The state’s public colleges and universities are an important economic engine for the state. For years, they have sent requests for state funding for facility improvements, maintenance, and tuition control, and have seen those requests reduced. It would be a good year to respond to some of these deferred projects and proposals.
It would also be a good year to give a raise to hard-working, underpaid health and personal care workers whose salaries depend on state funding levels. They have received raises in the last two terms, but their pay levels are still relatively low. The work they do is important and they need to be paid.
The Legislature should, of course, work quickly to approve the $250 million that is supposed to be distributed to frontline and essential workers who have led the fight against COVID-19. The payments should have been approved months ago, but the payments were caught up in political wrangling that prevented a special session from being called. The session has started, it’s time to get started.
The Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities is advocating for increased investment in Local Government Assistance, which helps equalize services between Minnesota cities, allowing cities with lower tax bases to pay for needed services without raise local property taxes to unsustainable levels.
Of course, it is also a good time to reform taxation. It is better to have a surplus of $7 billion than a deficit, but it would be better to give relief to the taxpayers who paid to accumulate the surplus.