By Rep. Joe McDonald
There was much careful thought and deliberation in 2011, the last time we set a state budget in St. Paul. That is not the case this year.
Democrats are in the process of bringing to the House floor bills they authored to set our new budget. What it boils down to is we are receiving details of their plan to raise taxes by $2.6 billion and hundreds of millions more in fees to erase a projected budget shortfall that is $627 million – and steadily shrinking.
The last time around, our budget bills focused on creating a more efficient and effective government by eliminating wasteful spending and creating a healthy economy with economic freedom, all while protecting hard-working taxpayers. Gov. Mark Dayton ultimately agreed with the Republican approach in 2011 and we held the growth in biennial overall state spending to the lowest rate in more than 50 years.
We have been reaping the rewards ever since. State revenue is rising, unemployment is lower and we made significant progress in paying back money owed to our schools. Our economy is growing.
This year, the new Democrat majority is opening the floodgates on taxing and spending. Even some of my Democrat colleagues in the House are whispering about their concern for the magnitude of proposed increases on taxes and fees. The House majority wants to increase taxes on everything from beer to batteries, carpet, paint and tobacco, while eliminating the deduction for charitable contributions.
Here is a snapshot of two bills Democrats brought to the floor to start the budget-bill parade on the House floor. One pertains to jobs and the economy, while the other addresses the environment, natural resources and agriculture. Both passed without widespread bipartisan support.
The stated intent of the Jobs, Commerce and Housing Omnibus Bill is to promote economic development in Minnesota. It includes $436 million in spending (a 24-percent increase), with $28 million for Explore Minnesota advertising through a 46-percent car rental sales tax increase. There would be a $29.3 million-increase in taxes and fees, including insurance agent appointments fees ($4.9 million/year), plumbing inspection fee restructuring ($366,000/year) and cosmetologist penalties ($700,000/year).
The Environment and Agriculture Policy and Finance Omnibus Bill (HF 976) is designed to better protect our land, air and waterways while promoting the ag. industry and its products. Increases for water permit fees ($6.1 million more per year) and lake property fees ($700,000 more per year) are top concerns. There is a $47 million spending increase to this area over 2011-12, including creating almost 130 new government jobs and putting more money toward duplicative, unnecessary programs.
There are some good components in each of these bills, but the questionable increases in spending and taxes overshadow those positives. Citizens already are paying more for groceries, gas and heating bills while take-home pay has remained stagnant.
I will continue advocating for a budget approach that favors economic freedom and healthy families over more wasteful government spending. We can fully support our priorities without raising taxes if we continue along the path established by Republican leadership in 2011-12.
The budget bills the new majority is issuing take us the wrong direction.