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Budget surplus gives us chance to make real progress for Minnesotans

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Saint Paul, Minnesota - Today the Office of Minnesota Management and Budget announced a forecasted state budget surplus of $1.87 billion for fiscal years 2016-17. After $665 million is put into state reserve accounts, as required by law,that number shrinks to $1.2 billion. House DFL Leader Paul Thissen delivered the following remarks following the announcement:

“Minnesotans should be pleased today that the prudent budget decisions made in 2013 are paying off. For the third November forecast running, our state budget is in surplus with structural stability that has not otherwise been seen this century.

Yet, too many ordinary Minnesotans continue to be left behind in an economy that favors insiders and the wealthy few. People feel like their life is beyond their control. It’s no wonder people are frustrated and angry. The true test of our leadership in 2016 will be whether we’re willing to look in the eyes of the people who have been doing well for so long – the big corporations who’ve seen their profits pile up and the well-connected, wealthy elite – and say that it’s time that everyone else participated in prosperity as well. We can hit the reset button for Minnesota.

What does that mean?

Students are paying higher tuition and taking on more debt because Republicans insisted on a budget that short-changed students. That’s money out of those families’ pockets no different than a tax increase. We should us the surplus to freeze or reduce tuition for every Minnesota post-secondary student and act to relieve the high burden of debt on recent graduates.

We should invest in our early learners and families to help narrow the achievement gap and reduce child care costs for Minnesota families who face the third highest childcare costs in the country. We need to properly fund our teacher development and evaluation programs to make sure we have the very best and most prepared teachers in our classrooms.

We should respond to the unique economic challenges facing our communities in Greater Minnesota. Once again, after the DFL reversed the trend of higher property taxes in 2013 and 2014, property taxes are going up by record amounts – over $400 million this year. There was no reason for that to happen with a multi-billion surplus. And it’s time to step up and say broadband and workforce housing and those who care for our seniors in their homes are a priority and not an afterthought. $100 million investment in broadband should be our benchmark of success.

There should be no question but that we pass a comprehensive transportation bill that provides dedicated, stable and sufficient funding to solve the problem for the long term for all parts of the state, including an investment in transit. And it should not be funded at the expense of education.

Tax relief should go to ordinary Minnesotans. Things like property tax relief, the child care tax credit and the long term caregivers tax credit could make a difference in the pocketbooks of middle class families.

We should use a substantial amount of one-time money to make a serious, significant, bold investment in research and development and entrepreneurship. We have a historic opportunity right now to make and solidify Minnesota a global leader in the innovation economy.

We should make progress to help employees whose wages are stolen and who have to choose between losing their job or caring for a sick child. And ordinary families should have as much chance to take 12 weeks of parental leave upon the birth of a child as a CEO like Mark Zuckerberg.

And above all, we should treat the racial disparities we see in our state as the emergency that it is, and commit real resources and make policy reforms that reflect the urgency of the situation. Our state will not succeed in the next decade if we do not act now.

These are the kind of discussions allowed by the balanced budget that we laid the foundation for in 2013 and 2014. These are the discussions that will set our state up for in the future rather than the divisive and stale sloganeering of “give it all back,” that is simply a cover for “give it to the rich and connected special interests.”

And one more thing. This healthy kind of discussion long term will only be made possible if we do everything we can in 2016 to clean up and shed light on our campaign finance system AND throw open the doors of the legislative process to make it more accountable to ordinary citizens rather than special Interests. That needs to be a key topic of discussion in 2016.

I am optimistic. This budget gives us as a state a chance to make real progress for ordinary Minnesotans.” 

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