Editorial: Dayton has point about surpluses

Published 9:17 am Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gov. Mark Dayton has a point when he says that, in future years, we’re unlikely to see Minnesota state budget surpluses like the nearly $2 billion projected for the upcoming two-year budget period.

Surpluses are unlikely, the governor said in his State of the State address last week, given the slower pace of the national economic recovery and its vulnerability to unforeseeable world events, along with demographic changes that are likely to constrain our choices about where to spend money the state raises from taxpayers.

“Whatever future national economic growth does occur, will likely be less than that experienced in the post-World War II decades, before the Great Recession,” he said.

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All the more reason, then, for lawmakers to restrain themselves from spending the surplus in ways that produce ongoing, and compounding, obligations. Or, it can well be argued, from spending it at all.

The extra money projected on the bottom line results from Minnesotans’ economic success, the governor contends.

He credited Minnesotans, recognizing “the business owners and executives, who have chosen to locate and expand here, because they found it profitable to do so”; “their hard-working, productive employees, who helped make those decisions successful”; and teachers, professors and other educators, as well as doctors, nurses, state and local government workers and more.

Unfortunately, Dayton said, the state’s successes are seldom acknowledged inside the Capitol.

“Its inhabitants are too preoccupied with assigning blame for real and imagined shortcomings. So, I want to take this opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of the people of Minnesota. And to say, ‘Thank You.’ You are remarkable citizens. You have achieved extraordinary successes, which have boosted our state to its place today.”

The governor cited growth in employment, incomes and business profits.

But we know it won’t always be so.

As we maintain on these pages, more state spending today increases the chances for deficits when the economy inevitably cycles downward, and leaves less flexibility for response.

As we’ve noted, every dollar not added to the spending base today is a dollar-plus-inflation that doesn’t have to be spent tomorrow.

And tomorrow will be far different, with demographic changes as aging baby boomers place increasing strain on government resources.

The governor’s proposals, however, call for spending nearly all of the projected surplus this year. Included, as the Pioneer Press has reported, are hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending for education and families. In addition, Dayton last week advanced a plan calling for $842 million in state bonding — that is, borrowing, debt that must be repaid with interest — for public works projects.

During the remaining five weeks of this legislative session, Dayton told lawmakers, “We will face our own moments of truth: Will we do what is easy, safe and popular; or will we risk our political lives to preserve this great state for future generations?”

As they consider his question, lawmakers should make restraint central to the answer.

Thrift is a virtue.

If Minnesota’s success owes to all those people the governor complimented, then he and the Legislature should take care to leave them as much of their own money as possible —so they can do more of what makes Minnesota great.


— St. Paul Pioneer Press, April 14

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