Peggy Bennett: Tax dollars are your hard-earned money

Published 9:00 am Sunday, February 12, 2017

Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

As state lawmakers and elected officials, one of our main jobs is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. As your state representative, I take this very seriously. When I vote on spending bills, foremost in my mind is that these tax dollars are your hard-earned money. I will always respect your pocketbook in the decisions I make at the Legislature.

That’s why it’s very frustrating for me when I see agencies or groups use tax dollars flippantly, like Monopoly money. Earlier this week, we learned the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority used tickets and suites at U.S. Bank Stadium for friends, family and political allies; all on the taxpayers’ dime.

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We recently learned that higher-ups at the MSFA used up to three taxpayer-funded suites, all meant for stadium business purposes, to cater to their own family or friends and, more disturbingly, their like-minded political supporters. Tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of taxpayer dollars were misused and wasted behind the back of the public.

Peggy Bennett

Peggy Bennett

We learned the full scope of the problem this week following the release of a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor. If you’re unfamiliar, the OLA is nonpartisan position appointed by the Legislature with a goal to ensure that government agencies and other government-related groups are being held accountable to the people of Minnesota.

The OLA found the MSFA to have provided 158 tickets to family and friends. These high-priced stadium suite tickets also included other expensive amenities such as special stadium parking spots, food and drinks. More importantly, the OLA found that this practice “violated a core ethical principle.” All of these practices are absolutely unacceptable in my mind.

Following the release of the report, Gov. Mark Dayton accused legislators of using this incident as a political gimmick. Folks, this is far from a political gimmick, and I would respectfully differ with the governor here. Minnesotans deserve to know their tax dollars are being spent wisely and are not being wasted so the family and friends of government employees can reap luxurious benefits like this.

Republicans in the House are moving a bill to restructure the MSFA, provide greater oversight, and restrict the use of stadium suites to their original legitimate business purposes only — no more handouts. This is what common-sense, responsible governing should look like.

The idea of being accountable to Minnesotans extends well beyond this stadium issue. We are currently in the process of putting together our two-year budget. In this process, we are always looking for ways to more efficiently use tax revenue and to make sure that this revenue is being spent responsibly, and that government spending does not outgrow the family budget.

Dayton has just released his budget, and the House and Senate are currently working on their budgets, which will be released in the upcoming weeks. I look forward to continued discussions with the governor, the Senate, my colleagues in the House and, most importantly, you the taxpayer, as we come to a consensus on our next two-year state budget.

As always, my goal is to make sure that all tax dollars are being used wisely, and that we develop a common-sense budget that prioritizes core government functions and respects your pocketbook.

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea,  is the District 27A representative.