By Rep. Ron Kresha, Guest Columnist
When elected, I committed myself to putting people ahead of politics and standing up for the District 9B constituents. Here is a recap of the 2013 legislative session.
I believe the number one priority of the session was to structurally balance the state budget and bridge the $627 million budget deficit. Beginning in January, the Minnesota Management and Budget office was forecasting strong revenues that should’ve paved the way for balancing the budget. With projected $1 billion revenue over expense forecast, the legislative body could’ve streamlined government, attended to education reform, and adjusted the long-term care and nursing home funding to reflect the needed inflation costs. Instead something very different emerged from the session.
In the span of about 72 hours during the last weekend of session, the DFL-controlled legislature passed the largest budget in the history of the state. Included in the record-setting budget is over $2 billion in new taxes, hundreds of millions in new and increased fees, and billions of dollars in new spending that will take money out of the pockets of hardworking Minnesotans.
Despite the new school funding, our schools were not paid back as promised and the Department of Education narrowed the focus of early education scholarships that would’ve greatly benefited the families who rely on early childhood education in our area. Instead, the critical scholarships are focused heavily on the metro area and diminishing educational opportunities for greater Minnesota children.
Costly energy mandates will mean higher utility bills for thousands of families, rich and poor alike, across Minnesota — unless you live in the Iron Range who was exempt from these fees.
Your trip to the DMV will cost even more thanks to increased driver’s license fees.
Cigarette taxes were increased by $1.60 per pack, with part of the money being used to overcome the e-pull-tab revenue shortage on the Vikings Stadium. Gov. Dayton himself opposed increasing the cigarette tax because of the impact it would have on many low-income families.
The agriculture industry was rewarded with higher warehouse and storage taxes. Furthermore, throughout the session numerous bills to increase water appropriations and regulations were introduced that would directly impact our local farmers.
Democrats have already conceded that the warehouse and storage taxes in particular could have far-reaching and unintended consequences and, within days after the session concluded, were discussing the possible repeal of these taxes next session.
All of these taxes are going toward a flood of new spending: over $3 billion in total and will create an additional 1,300 government employees. I simply cannot subscribe to the economic theory that government growth is equated with job creation.
This budget cuts in half the projected $800 million surplus the state was set to have in 2016-2017, and, with automatic spending increases already built in to future budgets, puts our state at risk for future deficits down the road. Additionally, I ask, “Does it make sense to continue to balance our budget on the backs of gambling and tobacco use?” Do our habits now make up a tax bracket instead of our income?
Despite $2 billion in new taxes and hundreds of millions in new fees, Democrats also failed to adequately protect our nursing homes, group homes and hospitals. In the end, our nursing home caregivers did receive a token 5 percent increase, but our personal care attendants only received a 1 percent increase.
And in the final days of the session, the Legislature passed daycare unionization legislation that could pave the way for an unprecedented unionization effort of small business owners.
This record-setting budget is a 10 percent growth in spending while the Minnesota economy is growing at an annual rate of 3 percent. This expansion of government sets the stage for increased liabilities, deficits and expenditures in the future.
Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, represents the residents of District 9B, which includes most of Morrison County.