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Long-term thinking is needed for our COVID-19 economic recovery

Friday, April 3, 2020

By Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston

Much attention is being paid to Minnesotans being placed under a lockdown order issued by Gov. Tim Walz. But one thing that is not being discussed nearly enough is the path that needs to be laid for our economic recovery.

Most of the talk is around sending money to folks. That is a very short-term vision to a much larger problem. These ideas already are experiencing bottlenecks within the agencies tasked with dispersing the funds. The notion this is free money is a misnomer. These are tax dollars. Taxpayers will be on the hook for everything.

The path forward needs to be laid now. It is increasingly apparent this will need to be done by the private sector. I am putting together bills that will ease regulations on businesses across Minnesota.

If passed, they will push back the deadlines for permit renewals without fees or fines. They will streamline new permits, making it easier for new business startup, and expansion. And they will make it harder for State agencies to sue private citizens.

There are other things we can do as well, such as repurposing existing funds to move for faster recovery. Money coming in from the state lottery could be used to update existing infrastructure. Moving this money into the Public Facilities Authority would allow us to repair our crumbling municipal water and sewer systems.

In 2018, Minnesotans bought $596 million worth of lottery tickets. About 62% of that went to prizes, 7.5% to administration and expenses, and 6% to retailers who sell the tickets. The other 25% goes to the state of Minnesota. In 2018, that amount was $145 million.

Of the state’s 25% take, 60% goes into the General Fund, with 40% directed to projects that are suggested by a Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources.

Putting this money into local infrastructure projects would ease local property tax burdens and bring needed improvements to water quality. These improvements could be performed by local businesses, keeping local people employed and benefitting our economy.

In 2008, Minnesota voters approved a 25-year tax designed to enhance the arts, parks, state property and clean water. You may remember the clean water Legacy Amendment to our Constitution. This tax brings in around $650 million every two years.

We are now 11 years into this Amendment and it has become clear to me there is tremendous waste within these funds. It is time to reassess this funding with a question on the ballot asking whether we could repurpose these dollars. For example, 33% could go to real clean water projects across the State. The other 66% could be spent on roads and bridges. This, too, would boost local economies at the same time fix our deteriorating roads and bridges.

Another way we can improve our state’s fiscal outlook is by reducing budgets on agencies for every fraud discovered within their realm. This money should be returned to taxpayers, heightening government accountability.

And, while we are at it, let’s eliminate the statewide property tax to Minnesota businesses.

One more thing to consider: Government can grow itself by implementing automatic increases to agency funding. This should end. Every increase should have to be voted on by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor.

As we move through the effects of the coronavirus, it is imperative we look forward. The stalled economy will have lasting effects. The direction we are headed cannot be sustained. The longer we wait to pave a path forward, the longer recovery with be delayed. If this goes into the summer, I fear many of our small businesses and the jobs they provide will not survive.

It is clear implementing these proposals will be difficult. I will need public support. I welcome your input and suggestions.

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