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Editorial: Voters left lacking details on session decision making

Published 9:21am Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Editor’s note: Keep in mind this printed Monday in the St. Cloud Times, and many issues changed overnight before adjournment.

The sausage-making part of Minnesota’s effort to build its biennial budget is largely done now.

Sadly — but as usual — much of that process occurred behind closed doors. … Really, the only choice voters now have is to spend the next two years determining if the flavor of that sausage is worth the price they will pay for it. It should be an interesting taste test, to say the least.

It appears DFL Gov. Mark Dayton will get mostly what he wanted — a state budget that spends about 7 percent more than the current plan. While the big winners appear to be education and property tax relief, this board has long stated a 7 percent increase is too much.

Given the rebounding (but still soft) economy, the spending side of the ledger needed to focus on filling a projected $627 million shortfall in 2014 while holding overall state spending to the amount of increases projected in state revenues during the budget cycle. Estimates put that amount at about $1 billion.

Instead, Dayton made good on his (and other DFLers’) campaign promise to “invest in Minnesota” by increasing taxes on the rich. A 2 percent income tax hike on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans will generate the bulk of the additional $2 billion the budget requires. Also tapped are an increased tobacco tax and corporate tax loopholes.

Still unclear, though, are what happened to an array of other proposed increases such as sales tax on certain business-to-business transactions, fee hikes and various surcharges. At one point, the latter two items were to yield $300 million.

Minnesota’s wealthy and its business owners could have fared much worse. Not in the mix are “blink-on” surcharge on the super-rich, a broader sales tax and expenses from raising the minimum wage.

Prior to this session, Dayton’s administration worked diligently to create a state budget plan that fostered long-term stability and offered substantial reforms. His initial idea of a broader and lower sales tax, including applying it business-to-business, drew too much opposition so he retreated to the basic budget plan being adopted.

Admittedly, he got no help (and lots of heat) from Republicans all session, but such is the nature of Minnesota politics the past decade.

Ultimately, he and the DFL Legislature will be enacting a budget that offers little structural reforms and simply relies on higher taxes to cover ever-expanding costs.

Is that palatable to most of us? We’ll know on Election Day in 2014.

— St. Cloud Times, May 20