Editorial: Proposed rebate checks better spent elsewhere

Published 8:50 pm Friday, January 21, 2022

Earlier this week, Gov. Tim Walz proposed sending rebate checks to Minnesotans, which would come out of Minnesota’s $7.7 billion surplus and leftover federal aid.

Predictably, Republicans called the move an election year gimmick with Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller quoted as saying, “We’ll propose permanent, ongoing, targeted tax relief for working Minnesotans so they see savings every single year,” the Republican leader said.

Walz, when making the announcement, said the money would go toward easing the burden of people affected by COVID-19, and would come to a total of $700 million in one-time payments.

It’s a nice gesture, but unnecessary and certainly not meaningful. The rebates break down to $175 for single tax filers and $350 for married filers and eligibility would be subject to an income cap.

Despite the good intentions, or whether it is an election year gimmick, the fact is $175 doesn’t go far in easing any kind of burden. Maybe it gets you one week of groceries — maybe — but many households will see needs far outweigh what $175 or $350 may do. It will be fleeting relief at best.

Consumer goods are at historic highs and gas prices remain well above the $3 mark. Most places in Austin, if not all, are hovering at $3.24 a gallon. 

The harsh temperatures combined with the effects from last February’s brutal storm in Texas are still waiting to be reflected in our utility bills.

All of this points to relief in this moment looking more like somebody being tossed a floatation device in a hurricane.

And we question whether we can or should continue to even keep doling out money. Early on in the pandemic, we contend that the money was meaningful and impactful, but we were still getting our heads wrapped around just how long the pandemic would last. Since then the pandemic has settled in for the long haul, making it difficult to warrant the government continuing to give money to people. It simply is not sustainable.

There are parts of Walz’s proposal we can get behind and urge the legislature to pass. The governor’s economic package calls for $1 billion for front-line workers and would support people working in health care or long-term care facilities, as well as child care workers, grocery store staff and retail employees. An estimated 667,000 workers would get $1,500 payments.

These people working in these areas, particularly health care workers, are under overwhelming pressures and need continued support to keep up with the incredible loads placed on them by the pandemic.

However, $700 million in rebate filings for everybody is money better spent elsewhere. We still have roads and bridges in terrible condition. There is certainly an argument to be made to funnel more money toward mental health, and most of the state is still lacking when it comes to broadband.

Gimmick or not, we laud the idea behind Walz’s rebate idea, but the principle is lacking. We hope that when the time comes, Gov. Walz will see that the $700 million is needed, just not in this way.