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Viewpoint: Dayton's budget builds on success

JoAnn Ward

By Rep. JoAnn Ward, House District 53A

As an annual tradition at the Capitol, earlier this month the Governor delivered his State of the State address to the Legislature and Minnesotans. This year's tone was different- it was Governor Dayton's final speech and much of the theme was reflective.

Governor Dayton reminded us that when we prioritize fiscal stability and security in our state, we can invest in the values that make Minnesota a great place to live. Inheriting a hefty $6.2 billion deficit and coming out ahead with a modest surplus is a tremendous accomplishment; our high national ratings on economic growth, high school graduation rates, places to work, raise a family and retire should be recognized as a result of our hard work.

The Governor emphasized that there is more work to be done to build on our success. Days after his speech, he released his supplemental budget plan for Minnesota. His forward thinking proposal focuses on a variety of initiatives to make Minnesota a better place to live; in particular, I echo his call to deliver smart tax cuts and continued investments in public education for our youngest learners.

The Minnesota Legislature has control over how we choose to align our tax code to the federal code after passage of the Trump Tax Bill last December. Forty percent of the total bill consists of tax giveaways to corporations and nearly 50 percent of new individual federal tax cuts go to the wealthiest Americans. There are also concerns about how this new law unfairly penalizes certain states, including Minnesota by limiting deductions of state and local taxes. If the Minnesota Legislature fully "conforms" to the new federal law, an average Minnesota family's state income taxes could increase by close to $500.

Alternatively, if the House and Senate Majorities pass the Governor's fiscally sound plan to roll back tax giveaways for Big Tobacco, enormous property tax cuts for corporations and estate tax cuts for the wealthiest, nearly two million Minnesota families would see a tax cut of close to $200. We as Minnesotans value fair compensation for hard work. That's why changes to the tax code should make taxes fair for everyone, not just corporations and the wealthy. Additional investments to our public schools also help to cultivate productive members of society. Quality education is the foundation of our strong workforce. These are Minnesota values in which we take great pride.

That's why I'm so grateful that over the past eight years, Governor Dayton made it a priority to not only pay back our schools in full for money borrowed under Gov. Pawlenty, but to make historic investments that have produced real results; 80,000 kids across the state are now enrolled in all-day kindergarten or high-quality early learning programs.

His budget blueprint for our youngest learners helps all children get a great start in school and life. Continued education funding would make voluntary pre-Kindergarten funding permanent for the 56 school districts statewide that already offer it. In fact, if the Legislature does not take action on this specific initiative, those schools will lose their pre-k funding. Investing in early education, whether it be all day kindergarten, voluntary pre-k, or targeted early learning scholarships, helps spot achievement gaps early on so educators and parents alike can address concerns before that gap widens later.

Governor Dayton leaves behind a legacy that truly delivered on promises for a better Minnesota. However, the work is not finished. Please keep in touch to let me know what challenges we should tackle next.