VIEWPOINT: Fiscal restraint; difficult but necessary

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Viewpoint

With each new budget cycle comes excitement from legislators about new ideas to invest in. Similar to how families jump with joy at the news of a raise or unexpected bonus — when the state has a surplus, legislators brim with ways to spend the extra dough.

Legislators rely heavily on the budget forecast to help them know the state's fiscal status when crafting their budgets. The recent announcement a few weeks ago that the budget forecast showed a $1.65 billion surplus was met with similar enthusiasm.

But I am here to urge caution. I understand it's not as fun to talk about saving as it is spending, but just like paying off a car loan or contributing to a child's college fund is a more prudent way to use an unexpected inflow of income, investing in infrastructure or saving for future rainy days is smarter than giving it all away in one-time tax cuts. Maintaining our balanced budget and strong economy now and into the future are my top priorities.

The Senate and House Republicans have had a lot of expensive proposals lately. And to be honest, when I look at the proposals through my lens as a mother and a middle-class family, I realize most of Republicans' tax proposals won't help most of my neighbors.

Senate Republicans have already proposed more than $2 billion in tax spending alone — more than what we have to spend across all budget areas. And I'm concerned that most of these proposals will only have short-term effects, missing an opportunity to strengthen Minnesota in the long-term.

For example, Senate Republicans recently heard a bill that would give $35 million in tax breaks to cigarette companies. And in the same week, the same committee refused to hear testimony on a proposal that would give relief to thousands of Minnesotans struggling with student loan debt.

In another example of misguided priorities, Republicans call for a reduction in statewide business property taxes, which sounds like a good idea. However, nearly half of the business owners who would benefit are the heads of out-of-state corporations. I support targeted reductions in property taxes — but for smaller businesses, not millionaire and billionaire CEOs who won't reinvest in Minnesota.

Very soon, budget targets will be set by House and Senate Republicans. These targets help each committee set its own budget. I am concerned that with so much tax spending, there will be very little to meet other budget obligations, particularly when it comes to education. Republicans have said they support a 2 percent funding formula increase for our schools, which is great news. This is money that goes straight to helping schools and kids, and it keeps local property taxes down. But how will Republicans make good on this promise with so much spending in other areas?

In addition to critical investment in our schools comes the next hurdle: a comprehensive transportation funding package. Our roads and bridges are in dire need of increased investment. I am concerned that needed funding will once again be set aside in favor of tax cuts for wealthy corporations.

In calls, emails and visits, you've told me you don't want to see Minnesota go backwards. Our schools have been shortchanged before, and I've made it my mission to not let that happen again. Prudent fiscal choices now will help preserve the economic prosperity we've come to expect and enjoy here in Minnesota.

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