Good news from the Capitol! Following the announcement of the February forecast, we now know that the state has a projected $1.2 billion surplus. This is the second consecutive positive budget forecast – evidence that the state’s economy is experiencing steady, incremental growth.
Being the second year of the legislative biennium, we are not in a budget year, but the state’s positive balance provides an opportunity to make smart, targeted investments to continue to beef up our economy and improve needed services throughout the state.
Over the next several weeks, legislators, the governor, local leaders, activist organizations and most importantly, the public, will be conducting an open conversation at the Capitol to decide the best use for the surplus dollars.
One of these options was highlighted during the news conference announcing the surplus. The State Economist, and other non-partisan fiscal experts expressed caution about the surplus highlighting additional costs from inflation not reflected in the budget forecast. Following that statement, Senate leaders emphasized the importance of building up the state budget reserve account. This might not be a flashy option that you will see in news headlines, but the “rainy day” fund, may be needed in future years if the economy does slide or stall.
This session we will discuss targeted investments in our education system. As the Senate E-12 Education Finance Chair, I look forward to hearing the merits of these investments in committee. A quality education system clearly has a major impact on a state’s economy and I believe it starts before a child enters a classroom.
Last session we invested in early education and I think the surplus could provide an opportunity to continue that investment. We need to work to ensure that every child is ready for kindergarten no matter where they live or their economic status. Studies have shown that this is a worthwhile investment and I intend to continue to pursue improvements in early education.
I also intend to pursue an additional investment in Adult Basic Education. Recently, the E-12 Finance Division heard moving testimony from Sergio Aranda, an adult student in the ABE program at Harmony School in North St. Paul. Sergio indicated that when he finally earned his GED diploma, at the insistence of his children, it was one of his life’s proudest moments. Said Sergio, “The teachers and staff people believed in me more than I believed in myself. They believe that every student is worthy of investment. Every penny spent on these students will multiply.”
Finally, the Legislature will be discussing a number of possible changes to the state’s tax code. Last session we made a number of changes that will be discussed again this year. It is important to note that these changes did not just happen by chance, they helped us balance the state budget shortfall and make needed investments in E-12 education, higher education and many other critical areas. Repealing any of the changes we made last session will cost real dollars in the state’s budget.
I encourage you to follow the Legislature as we discuss these options over the next two months. The decisions we make in St. Paul will have an impact on your family and community and I value and encourage constituent engagement throughout this process.
Please contact me with questions or suggestions regarding any issue. I encourage you to visit me at the Capitol, or let me know if you’d like me to stop by your home or apartment. Also, please tune in to my local cable TV show, “Your Capitol: What’s Up?,” which appears on public access channels 15 and 16. I can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by phone at 651-296-6820.