Senator Susan Kent Capitol Report: Clouds on the Horizon

Talking about the state’s budget may not be everyone’s idea of the best way to spend a summer day in Minnesota! That said, I want to reflect on the 2017 legislative session, the budget, and what it means for Woodbury and East Metro residents.

Because I’m an optimist at heart, I want to start by focusing on the positive. We funded our schools at a 2 percent annual increase, and we continue to expand early learning, an area with tremendous return on investment. Further, we cut taxes on Social Security income for seniors and property taxes for small businesses.

Then, there’s the other side. There are long-term consequences of this budget and how it will impact communities and taxpayers, plus there are important things left undone.

I am troubled by key areas that were not funded, because evidence shows that Minnesotans will pay more in the long run.

For one, the Gold Line $3 million bonding request wasn’t funded, which could cost an extra $17 million with a delay. This was blocked by House Republican leadership, in spite of bipartisan support from the Senate, Governor Dayton, and local legislators. Republican obstructionism to transit only hurts our region – and particularly the East Metro – as the metro grows and traffic worsens. The Gold Line is a valuable piece in addressing a range of challenges, and it is unfortunate that it was blocked.

Additionally, we are reminded daily of the danger of hacking and stolen data, and our aging state IT systems are putting Minnesotans’ personal and financial information at risk. Governor Dayton proposed, and I strongly supported, improvements to our state’s cybersecurity – smart investments to protect individuals as well as ward off state costs of data breaches. I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation from Republican legislative leaders for not taking this common-sense step. In fact, their original proposals would have cut data security!

But the greatest concern is how the new tax proposal will affect our budget in coming years, and how that will impact taxpayers as a result. Few will argue against tax relief for seniors and small businesses. However, the way these tax cuts are constructed, they expand in future years. It’s like taking out a mortgage that you can swing for now, but it has a balloon in a few years and there’s no plan for how you’re going to pay it.

We began this session with a $1.6 billion surplus. It’s possible we’ve seen the end of a string of positive budget cycles. And – depending on larger economic trends – it’s likely that our surplus will be gone, and we may, in fact, be heading back into structural deficits.

Why does this matter to individuals? Because without a modest surplus, we can’t continue to provide the same level of services — in our schools, roads, courts, and state agencies. Some would argue that government should be cut, and everyone agrees that we must stay vigilant in cutting waste and abuse. But nowhere, in any of the Republican budget cut proposals, do they ever identify how funding cuts can be implemented without forsaking services that matter to Minnesotans and our future.

It’s politically easy to rail against big government and cheer lower taxes, but there’s never a realistic proposal to make it happen.

In fact, some of the biggest cheerleaders for this year’s E-12 budget increases were the Republican committee chairs who fully understand the costs of underfunding!

The implications are the same: cutting services (educational programs, road construction, veterans and senior services, tax refund processing, etc.) OR shift the burden to counties, cities and school districts which then increase local property taxes to make up the difference.

That’s what’s happening right now with Minnesota’s budget. Under DFL leadership, we reversed major deficits, built a rainy day fund, and righted the ship. But this year, under Republican control, much of that progress was wiped away in order to cut taxes to mostly benefit the wealthy, large corporations, and tobacco companies. All at a time when economists are forecasting clouds on the horizon in the form of lower revenue coming into state coffers.

These are indicators that Republicans have acted recklessly in crafting Minnesota’s two-year budget. Time will tell how harmful their actions have been, but I am urging caution and restraint. In order for Minnesota and our communities to be strong in the future, I want our schools to continue operating at a high level, and I want top-notch transportation infrastructure. Neither will come to fruition if the clouds on the horizon roll through any time soon.

Senator Susan Kent
Susan Kent represents District 53 in the eastern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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