By Roman Witucki, Guest Columnist
A recent column by Republican Rep. Ron Kresha makes the claim that Minnesota has become a “battleground in the debate over the size of government.” From my point of view there is only one side fighting against building a better Minnesota.
When the DFL took control of the Legislature in 2012, DFL legislators jumped on board to help Gov. Mark Dayton “Build a Better Minnesota” and move the state in the right direction. During the 2013 session, the DFL expanded free all-day, every-day kindergarten to all students; froze college tuition at the state’s public schools; approved property tax relief; and erased a $627 million budget shortfall left by the Republicans.
These initiatives were paid for by raising income taxes on the upper 2 percent of Minnesotans, those with an average salary of $617,000 a year. That is 74 taxpayers in Morrison County. Thanks to the 0.50 percent of taxpayers in our county, 100 percent of our children will receive free all-day kindergarten. Making this change also made our tax structure more progressive.
Thanks to the work of Dayton and DFL legislators, the 2014 session started off with the great news that the state had a $1.2 billion budget surplus. This surplus was a welcome change from the years of gimmicks, shifts and plunging deficits when Republicans balanced the state budget on the backs of the working class, students and our most vulnerable citizens.
In the first months of the 2014 session, Dayton and DFL legislators provided much-needed energy assistance to pay for propane during the brutal winter; provided tax relief for 1 million Minnesotans; repealed three business-to-business taxes passed last year when the state had a budget deficit; and increased the minimum wage for the state’s lowest-paid workers. In the last weeks of the session legislators are expected to pass a bonding bill that will create jobs, funding for a 5 percent pay increase for home health care workers and hot lunches for students and additional tax relief.
While the state’s general fund spending did increase by 10 percent from fiscal year (FY) 2012-13 to FY 2014-15, it remains well below what it was back in 2002-03. Minnesota’s “Price of Government,” the total state and local government people pay for in taxes as a percentage of personal income, will fall to a near all-time low by FY 2017.
So to recap, under Republicans Minnesota had skyrocketing tuition, pricing some students out of higher education and imposing crushing debt on others; a decline in funding for K-12 education; no adequate funding for early childhood education; tax regressivity; budget deficits; and a state economy that underperformed the national average in terms of job and income growth.
In addition to the DFL’s work noted above, Minnesota has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation – with more Minnesotans working at any time in state history – was named the fifth fastest growing economy in the U.S. and was named the eighth best place to do business.
If Republicans truly want to turn this discussion into a battleground and call on people to pick sides, I welcome this challenge. Nov. 4 voters will decide if they want to return to Republicans’ failed policies or continue the DFL’s work to grow Minnesota’s middle class and build a Better Minnesota.
Roman Witucki is the DFL county chair.