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What state could be spending surplus on

The Minnesota Legislature is in session now, in a short session that usually focuses on bonding, but which this year is energized by the $7 billion surplus forecast for the state budget.

While we don’t want the state to go on a wild spending spree, there are things that the state could and should fund while it has the money.

Education is always a good investment. While Democrats and Republicans may wrangle on how and where to spend money on education, there’s really no bad spending on education. Given the rate of inflation we are all dealing with, the 2% increase in per pupil funding in the k-12 finance formula that Gov. Walz is proposing is not exactly out of line. Sure, we can focus more spending on programs that show results in test scores, as Republicans would like, but schools have increasing 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 a great economic driver for the state. For years they have been sending funding requests to the state for facilities improvements, maintenance and tuition control, and seeing those requests slashed. This would be a good year to meet some of those deferred projects and proposals.

This would be a good year as well to give a raise to those hard-working and underpaid health care and personal care workers whose wages are dependent on state funding levels. They have received some raises in the past couple of sessions, but their pay levels are still comparatively 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 front line and essential workers who have carried the fight against COVID-19. The payments should have been approved months ago but the payments got caught up in political infighting that prevented calling a special session. The session has started, and it’s time to get it done.

The Coalition for Greater Minnesota Cities is making the case for investing more in Local Government Aid, which helps equalize services among Minnesota cities, allowing cities with lower tax bases to pay for needed services without raising local property taxes to unsustainable levels.

Of course, this is also a good time for tax reform. It’s nicer to have a $7 billion surplus than a deficit, but it would be better to give a break to taxpayers who paid to build the surplus.

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