Capitol Comments: Money burning in pockets is never a good thing

Published 8:45 pm Friday, May 27, 2022

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Have you ever seen a little kid who has been gifted money, and that money just burns in the child’s pocket with the need to spend it? Well, that about sums up the 2022 legislative session in my mind.

Peggy Bennett

Last year, the Minnesota Legislature increased our two-year state budget by over 9% from the previous biennium, a significant increase. In this non-budget year, because of the huge projected surplus, House Democrats want to increase that state budget with an additional $5 billion in new spending. 

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This would set a new state record for government growth in Minnesota: a two-year spending increase of more than 15%. I want nothing to do with that kind of state record. 

Has your family budget increased by 9%? How about 15%? I don’t think so. 

We are in a time when record inflation is absolutely crippling Minnesotans. Gasoline prices are inching up toward $5 a gallon, and food and energy costs are skyrocketing. It’s difficult for many just to keep food on the table and pay their bills. 

Yet government has the audacity and arrogance to charge forward and attempt a 15% spending increase? That is incredibly out of touch with reality. 

Keep in mind that this record spending increase would be on top of the $80 billion in federal COVID dollars that poured into our state over the past two years. Even Minnesota schools received almost $3 billion of that federal funding. That is in addition to the half billion increase schools received in last year’s state budget. 

Not all of the supplemental spending proposals were bad. There were a number of good provisions such as addressing special education funding issues for schools and increased mental health programming. However, these items should wait until the 2023 budget year when we will have a better handle on the direction of our economy.  

Remember, this entire state surplus is projected. It’s not sitting in the bank somewhere. It could disappear in an instant with an economic downturn — but any new spending won’t disappear. 

One extremely time-sensitive crisis that should have been funded, but was notably excluded in the House Democrats’ budget bills, is the nursing home and disability home staffing crises. Staffing for many of these homes is down 30% and many are on the brink of closing. There is no excuse for not funding an emergency like this and risk putting these vulnerable people out on the streets. 

Another important issue is ending the tax on Social Security income. This is something I strongly support and was included in the supplemental tax bill. Unfortunately, that tax bill was held back by the House majority until their spending initiatives were passed and so it never came up for a vote. 

Even had the tax bill been brought forward, supporting it would have been difficult knowing it came with a price tag of $5 billion in permanent, ongoing spending for our state — spending that could very well force us into a deficit next year. 

Session ended with very few of these supplemental budget bills coming forward for a vote. I do not see that as a bad thing. Five billion dollars in additional spending — and putting Minnesotans on the hook for billions in future spending — would potentially set our state and its people up for a world of hurt. That’s not something anyone wants. 

I am disappointed that a bonding agreement was never reached. Sen. Dornink and I worked hard for our local projects and were successful in getting the funding for the Fountain Lake dredging project included. However, the entire bonding agreement fell through at the last hour. It was never brought to the floor for a vote. I hope we can address that in the future. 

Many indicators are pointing to a coming recession for our state and nation. Even in our current economy, nonpartisan government finance experts say that $4 billion of Minnesota’s projected surplus will already disappear next year. This is a volatile economic time. 

I am concerned for the people of Minnesota and our state’s economic health, and I am extremely troubled that the policies pushed by Democratic lawmakers are harming both.

Money burning in pockets is never a good thing. 

I believe the wise thing to do would be to wait until next year to allocate this surplus. State government is fully funded and does not need any more of your money. Waiting until the 2023 session begins would allow lawmakers to get a better grasp on the direction of our economy. If things deteriorate, we have roughly $7 billion to soften the blow. If things improve, we can deliver smart spending along with permanent and record-breaking tax relief to all Minnesotans. That is what our residents not only need but deserve.

Republican Peggy Bennett of Albert Lea is the House District 27A representative.