The budget debate kicked off at the Capitol last week with the release of Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal. While much has already been written about the Governor’s plan, I wanted to take this opportunity to provide my take on the 2013 legislative session and our ongoing budget discussions.
On the spending side of the budget equation, I am most eager to join the Governor in making funding for statewide early childhood education and all-day kindergarten a top priority. Every Minnesota kid deserves access to a world-class education, and research has proven how crucial it is to provide enriching educational opportunities to kids at an early age.
No less important, I join the Governor in calling for much needed investments in the areas of higher education and workforce development. As our state’s biggest employers look to grow here in Minnesota, they will depend on our highly trained and educated workforce to stay competitive in a global economy. At the same time, the cost of our state’s colleges and universities should not bury our students and families in debt.
Yet the largest single investment in the Governor’s budget addresses the out-of-control property tax burden that has been passed on to middle-class homeowners and small businesses in previous state budgets. By restoring state aid payments to local governments and providing a direct rebate for property tax payers, the Governor’s plan would deliver immediate tax relief in an area that has seen nothing but tax hikes for years. In whatever form, the state needs to be a partner with local governments to ensure property taxes are brought down in our communities.
On the revenue side of the equation, the Governor’s plan includes the addition of a fourth income tax tier for the top 2% of wage earners, which would ask the state’s wealthiest individuals to pay the same percent of their income that most Minnesotans already pay. This proposal should sound familiar, as it is at the core of a tax fairness initiative I supported in previous budget cycles.
Additionally, the Governor is proposing an extensive broadening of the sales tax base coupled with a dramatic 20% cut of the sales tax rate, which is projected to leave consumers’ overall sales tax bill unchanged. Minnesota has needed tax reform for a long time in order to bring balance and stability to the state’s revenue stream.
It’s safe to say that there are ideas for everybody to like and to dislike in the Governor’s budget package, but the Governor should be commended for steering Minnesota on a new course for long-term economic stability. For more than a decade, governors and legislative majorities of every political party have relied on a patchwork of one-time fixes, accounting gimmicks, and borrowing to temporarily “balance” our state budget. As a result, Minnesota has been in a constant cycle of crisis management, facing deficits in 8 of the past 11 years and losing our strong credit rating. Any budget proposal will have its critics, but the Governor’s vision for a sustainable, honest budget that does not spend more than it takes in is something everyone should be able to support.
The legislature has already begun the work of combing through the Governor’s plan, item by item, as we work toward negotiating our own budget proposal. I look forward to hearing from you in the weeks ahead as we focus on building a budget around our shared priorities—a growing economy, a prosperous middle-class, and common sense reforms that give Minnesotans a better value for their tax dollars.
State Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, is the Assistant Senate Majority Leader and chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Elections.