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VIEWPOINT: DFL fiscal restraint leads to prosperity

During Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton's State of the State address he told Minnesotans: "My No. 1 priority in this legislative session will be to protect the fiscal integrity of our state government." And it is mine as well. He then correctly explained that we've collectively worked very hard during the last few years to turn the state's fiscal ship around and steaming ahead into a healthy direction.

We return to session with a $900 million budget surplus, down from the November forecast of $1.2 billion. The Governor cautioned: "This forecast should give serious pause to everyone's wish list for this legislative session."

I could not agree more.

Since 2002, by law, the state budget forecast factors inflation only into estimates of revenues; it does not factor inflation into estimates of expenditures.

The reason this is important is twofold.

One, by only factoring inflation into the amount of money the state brings in, the forecast distorts the true picture of how much money we can responsibly spend.

Two, the legislature uses this forecast model to guide budgeting decisions in the current biennium and with an eye on future years. If we're using a distorted number, we could quickly find ourselves back in a deficit situation.

What this means in practical terms is that if we don't have some level of surplus, then the state can't support local school districts in keeping up with inflation. And this leads to greater pressure for local school levies to provide basic educational services, and those show up in our local property taxes.

I bring all of this up to say that this session we must practice fiscal restraint.

If House Republicans had passed their tax bill full of cuts last session, and if they had passed their transportation spending bill, which pulled from the general fund, Minnesota Management and Budget says we would be facing a budget deficit right now. So instead of trying to decide how to manage our modest budget surplus this session, we'd be looking at cuts in education and other vital services.

As Minnesotans, we went through almost a decade of budget deficits until 2013. I, for one, am committed to keeping us out of that situation again. While our economy is currently healthy, it's not growing quite as quickly as we'd like, largely due to global economic factors. Thanks to our actions in 2013 to dedicate a portion of any budget surplus into a rainy-day fund, we now have the largest budget reserves in state history.

Fiscal restraint will never be the flashiest or most exciting thing to talk about. But we've proven that budget making and the well-being of Minnesota families are a lot better off when we are fiscally responsible.

In the coming weeks, there will be a flurry of legislative activity as legislators try to pass their bills in this short 10-week session. But before we get carried away with exciting new proposals, I will be urging restraint. Leaving ourselves some wiggle room in the budget is a good thing.

I hope we can pass what we need to in order to move Minnesota forward.

Then, next year we'll again be in a strong, solvent position, prepared to pass a budget for the 2018-19 biennium that will support an economy that works for all Minnesotans.

Susan Kent represents Minnesota Senate District 53. She can be reached at 651-296-4166 or sen.susan.kent@senate.mn.

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