Editorial: Legislators and Governor Dayton face some big gaps
Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2017
The 2017 legislative session is closing in on Easter break, which means lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton have about six weeks to finish their primary job — crafting the state’s next two-year budget plan.
Through roughly the first three-quarters of the session, the good news is major bills are moving through the Republican-controlled House and Senate in a timely manner.
The challenging news comes on two fronts. First, there are large (even massive) differences between the bottom lines of those Republican-controlled bills and the budget proposals put forth by Dayton. Second, many bills contain various policy measures over which Republicans and DFLers tersely disagree.
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Here is this board’s basic summary of the differing philosophies emerging this session:
— In keeping with his progressive roots, Dayton wants to use most every dime available to the state, including its $1.6 billion budget surplus, to maintain and even expand certain state programs. His tax relief is aimed squarely at working-class and low-income Minnesotans. As for policy matters, he stands strong against substantial reforms, especially those reducing environmental protections and programs considered his legacy.
— Republican budget proposals, while differing between the House and Senate, support minimal increases in certain areas, seek substantial cuts in others, and generally aim to reduce state spending while cutting taxes more broadly. In fact, some GOP tax cut proposals would impact state programs far beyond the next two years, which seems alarming even with a surplus. On policy matters, Republicans lean heavily toward reducing regulations, especially on environmental protections. They also take direct aim at Dayton’s legacy programs and bedrock DFL values.
Again, those are basic summaries. Here are some examples that show the gaps, especially between Republican plans and Dayton’s proposals:
All three proposals agree K-12 per-pupil funding should increase. The House plan calls for a 1.25 percent increase each year. The Senate plan seeks 1.5 percent each of the next two years. And Dayton wants 2 percent each year.
Overall, new spending in those three bills totals $273 million in the House, $300 million in the Senate and $709 million from Dayton. Here, though, are a couple of critically important factors in those bills in the next six weeks.
First, Dayton’s plan expands his vision of Minnesota eventually having mandatory preschool — something not even all educators support. The House goes the other direction though, cutting those funds. The Senate calls for no increase. Second, the House bill includes changing teacher layoff rules away from so-called “last in, first out,” or LIFO. Dayton ardently opposes LIFO and it’s gone nowhere in the Senate this session.
Talk about big gaps.
In January, Dayton offered a $300 million package of tax credits aimed primarily at low- and middle-income families as well as farm property taxes. It offered minimal relief to businesses. News reports compared it to a measure he vetoed at the end of last session.
Late last month, the Senate and House plans came out. The Senate’s $900 million plan lowers the tax rate on the lowest tax bracket. The House proposes $1.35 billion in total cuts across a much broader spectrum of Minnesotans. Both bills seek to reduce the state income tax on Social Security and shrink the state property tax on businesses. They also provide breaks for college loans.
Again, look at the bottom lines: $300 million, $900 million and $1.35 billion. Talk about big gaps.
Such vast fiscal differences melded with policy proposals that feed the partisan beasts will make for an interesting homestretch of the 2017 legislative session.
With that in mind, Minnesotans need to remember that this session start with legislative leaders promising to hold final negotiations in public and avoid the closed-door meetings that have marked the end of the past few sessions.
Voters also should reach out to their legislators and make sure to express their views on key issues. Be assured that’s exactly what special interests are doing. Look no farther than the gaps created so far this session.
— St. Cloud Times, April 8