Capitol Comments: Future financial trouble overshadows start to session

Published 8:45 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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Capitol Comments by Peggy Bennett

Lawmakers have returned to the State Capitol to begin the 2024 legislative session, and you can expect numerous legislative topics to be discussed over the next three months. Near the top of the agenda would be law fixes and capital investment legislation.

Peggy Bennett

Minnesota’s budget was set last session. At that time, I was very concerned that the legislative majority was not only spending too much, but that too much of it was permanent and long-term. By session’s end, a nearly $20 billion state budget surplus was gone, taxes were raised by another $10 billion and overall state spending had increased by roughly 40%.

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By creating new layers of state government, we’ve seen huge new state agencies birthed that include large numbers of additional state employees. Also included were massive pay raises, as members of the Walz administration — who already had six-figure salaries — got massive bumps in pay, up to $32,000. With all the inflation and people struggling to make ends meet, are you getting a pay increase like that?

Since last year, we have received updates from our state’s financial experts. The first is that a significant error was made in the tax omnibus bill from last session. It amounts to a $352 million problem that, if left unfixed, will force 76% of Minnesotans to pay a higher tax bill. It appears there is bipartisan agreement to rectify this situation quickly at the beginning of session. I am supportive and hopeful we’ll do just that.

Our state’s fiscal experts also found that a $2.4 billion budget surplus exists for the current biennium. However, they’re also projecting a $2.3 billion budget deficit beginning next year for the 2025-26 budget cycle. In other words, there’s really no current surplus at all.

I am extremely upset at what has happened with our state budget. Pushing our state into a deficit was one of my greatest concerns last session when I witnessed the out-of-control spending by my Democratic colleagues who hold control of our state. Sadly, we have all watched an almost $20 billion budget surplus get turned into a $2.3 billion budget deficit. That’s going to cause a whole lot of hurt next year — hurt that was totally avoidable had fiscal restraint been used. There is no excuse for this!

It’s my hope this session that we will use some fiscal wisdom with the surplus that exists for the current budget cycle and stay away from any more long-term spending. In my mind, if the surplus dollars must be spent, it should address core issues that need fixing such as nursing home funding. The Legislature put a small financial band aid on this problem last year, but more needs to be done in order to prevent more critical care centers like these from closing.

Speaking of core issues, another use for the current surplus would be to use one-time funding to pay for shovel-ready critical infrastructure projects such as wastewater treatment facilities — a high priority need for many communities throughout our state. For example, Albert Lea is asking the state for $40 million (for an $80 million project) to build a new plant. Without it, sewer and water bills will triple if not quadruple for residents and businesses. Clarks Grove and Manchester have similar needs, as do many communities across our state. Why not put that surplus into things that will actually lower the cost of living and doing business for everybody? These are also projects that I will be pushing for in this year’s bonding bill.

We also must address the school resource officer (SRO) problem this session, and the earlier the better. Last year, approved legislation limited how school resource officers are allowed to de-escalate aggressive or violent situations, which caused dozens of law enforcement agencies to pull SROs from schools across Minnesota. We should have made needed changes during the interim as the removal of SRO’s made our schools less safe for students and teachers. All of us prioritize school safety, and we should be able to work together on a commonsense solution to this problem.

I am looking forward to representing our local communities in the state Legislature this session. As always, I am interested in hearing your thoughts on legislative topics. Feel free to contact me any time at or 651.296.8216 to share your thoughts!

Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, is the District 23A representative.