Editorial Roundup: Walz budget proposal: Big ask, big questions

Published 8:50 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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The budget and borrowing proposals recently announced by Gov. Tim Walz fall in the category of a “big ask.” They have been described as transformational and bold, but the focus should not necessarily be on the sheer size of the numbers but what kind of return on investment they might bring.

The $65 billion two-year budget is 25% higher than the past two years and has predictably drawn criticism with an exclamation point from Republicans. And the number is certainly something Minnesotans should pay attention to and have plenty of questions about. But one important question is: How much of the budget is making up for investments we’ve neglected in the past, and worse, how much has been caused by inflation as a byproduct of gridlock?

But the bulk of the increases come in more funding for schools, and especially the deficits in things like special education funding that costs districts an estimated $744 million a year. Walz and Democrats describe the education budget as “fully funding schools.” The $12 billion education budget provides about $1 billion in tax credits for families with children. It includes 4% and 2% increases in the basic school funding formula and funds half of the special education funding deficit.

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It also spends $813 million on universal school meals for every child. With that and the tax credits, the aim is reducing child poverty by 25%. Transformational, if it comes to fruition.

Increasing the number of counselors and mental health specialists will come in the form of behavioral health grants of $158 million. Again, a critical need that has been largely unaddressed in the past.

The Walz budget, however expensive, addresses many problems that have been lingering for years. And despite the good intentions of Democrats and Republicans to solve these problems, for one reason or another, not enough has been done. The proposals have often been constrained by budget limitations. With a $17.6 billion surplus, those limitations have been significantly reduced.

The governor also proposed a $3 billion bonding bill to address what can be described as nothing but a horrific backlog of public repair and building projects. The governor proposes some projects that will be funded with cash, the more critical projects that will only need a majority vote in the Legislature and not require the three fifths vote required of normal bonding bills.

The Walz budget also contains some rebate checks for taxpayers (up to $2,000) but also some new taxes that include a sales tax increase (1/8 of a percent) mostly for metro transit, a higher tax on capital gains (1.5% to 4%), and some car license tab increases and DNR fees. It also aims to fund a family leave program by new payroll taxes of 0.6%, split between employers and employees.

One can argue some spending increases and taxes will more than pay for themselves. But we have to ask the questions. How much is reducing child poverty worth to us and our society as a whole? Studies by the Federal Reserve Bank have shown investments in child well-being pay off in lower social and criminal justice costs down the road.

Walz said he aims to make Minnesota the best place to raise children. What kind of dividends might that pay for making our state a magnet for jobs and innovations? These kind of questions have not been asked in the past because budgets were restrained.

Walz has a big ask of a budget. But the bigger question might be how much we will get in return for these investments.

— Mankato Free Press, Jan. 29

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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