Poppe: Budgets address future issues

Published 8:18 am Thursday, May 9, 2013

As the Minnesota legislature enters the final days of the 2013 session, we’re not far off from getting a final budget signed into law.

Last week, I wrote about some of the major components of the budget passed by the House of Representatives. Today, I want to give you some additional context about how our budget compares to what’s been done over the past ten years.

When you take a close look, it’s clear we’re poised to position Minnesota for a bright future by making smart investments instead of continuing the all-cuts approach of the past. Our top priority this session is paying for new investments in education, which generate the most bang for our buck and create positive outcomes that benefit our entire state.

Past vs. Future: K-12 Education

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Past – Minnesota’s education system was once known as a national leader in academic excellence, but we’re slipping due to budget cuts over the past decade. We’ve seen a number of school districts cut back learning opportunities for our kids by switching to four-day school weeks. In addition, an increasing number of students don’t graduate on time, which costs taxpayers more in the long-run. In fact, our four-year graduation rates have slipped to 29th in the nation. Dropping from the top 10 to 22nd in K-12 education funding has tarnished our proud history of prioritizing our children’s education.

Future – In order to regain our status as a national leader, the House passed a budget that makes historic investments in our students. Our plan pays the cost of all-day Kindergarten to make sure all learners are prepared for grade school and provides an additional $315 million for K-12 schools, an average of over $200 per pupil, so students can gain the skills and knowledge they’ll need to be ready for college or a career.

Past vs. Future: Higher Education

Past – We all know someone, whether it be a neighbor, relative, or our own children, who faces a crushing burden of debt to pay for his or her degree. It’s a direct result of budget cuts to Minnesota’s public colleges and universities over the past decade. Past generations had more opportunities because our state paid the costs necessary to help young people earn a post-secondary degree at an affordable price. Tuition more than doubled over the past decade, meaning more and more students from the current generation attending college must devote future income to paying off debt instead of saving to buy a house or a car. If current trends continue, higher education will be out of reach for future generations. The approach of the recent past is clearly not an effective recipe for economic growth or financial stability.

Future – For the first time in a decade, students at the University of Minnesota system and MnSCU colleges will not see their tuition go up because the House higher education bill pays for an investment to freeze tuition, which comes as welcome news to countless students and parents who have asked lawmakers to address this problem. While I believe we need to do more to bring tuition levels down, stopping costs from soaring any higher is a positive step towards a brighter future for our young adults and our economy.

Past vs. Future: Taxes

Past – An unwillingness to generate new revenue over the past decade meant an all-cuts approach to budgeting. It has not served Minnesota well. Cuts to Local Government Aid (LGA) caused property tax hikes, creating a burden mainly shouldered by middle class families. There’s been an unwillingness to have an honest conversation about our state’s needs and how we pay for them. It’s led to gimmicks like the school shift that only perpetuate our structural budget deficits. This kind of ‘kick the can down the road’ attitude caused record borrowing from our schools and left Minnesota’s fiscal house in a mess.

Future – The House budget uses a combination of new revenue, cuts, and reforms to pay for the investments needed to create a brighter future. Our plan cleans up our books by paying back the school shift debt in full over the next two years. It also pays for sorely-needed middle class property tax relief and increases LGA funding to help prevent our cities and towns from raising property taxes in the future. This means that Minnesotans can continue relying on high-quality services like police officers and firefighters while having more money in their pockets to save for retirement, send their kids to college, or purchase goods and services from local businesses.

Where We Go From Here

When it comes down to it, we need to ask ourselves whether we’re better off as a state right now than we were ten years ago.

I believe last November’s election was a resounding answer from Minnesotans that it’s time to reject what’s happened over the past decade and take a fresh new approach that creates a brighter future for everyone. That’s why the House passed a budget that truly recognizes that we all do better when we all do better. It creates the kind of bright future Minnesotans want and the kind of outcomes taxpayers deserve.

I’m confident the final budget signed into law by Governor Dayton sometime over the next week will reflect that attitude.

Please contact me with any questions or comments about the budget in the final days of the 2013 session. You can reach me by phone at 651-296-4193, by email at rep.jeanne.poppe@house.mn, or by postal mail at 487 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.