Our Opinion: Deal on state budget bill a welcome surprise
Count us among the pleasantly surprised last weekend when Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders announced they'd reached a budget deal with just hours remaining in this year's legislative session.
With the way things were going in St. Paul, did anyone seriously think this would happen? If recent years at the Minnesota Legislature serve as any kind of indicator, we doubt it.
After days of closed-door meetings, Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka emerged Sunday, May 19, with a plan to spend $48 billion over the next two years, a roughly 6% increase in spending from current funding levels.
These leaders did something we didn't think was possible—they compromised. How refreshing is that? It's especially promising in the current partisan political environment in this country, where compromise often equates with weakness and politicians seem to prefer campaigning to governing.
The compromise budget deal comes with a provision that would keep in place a tax on medical providers that is used to fund health insurance coverage for children, elderly, disabled and low-income people that was set to expire at year's end. The continuation of the 2% tax, which was dropped to 1.8%, was a top priority for Democrats but a point of opposition for Republicans, who deemed the tax a "sick tax."
And the state will continue paying insurance companies for two years to help manage the risk of those on the individual insurance market, which is intended to bring down premium prices.
Democrats had to drop a plan to gradually increase the tax on gasoline by 20 cents per gallon to fund road and bridge repairs. Walz and Democrats proposed the tax hike, while GOP lawmakers adamantly opposed it.
The plan includes changes to the state tax code to conform with federal codes and will include tax relief for middle-class Minnesotans.
The plan would also boost per-pupil funding to public schools by 2% next year compared to current levels and an additional 2% in the following year. And another $40 million would also go to funding broadband expansion.
The leaders also proposed dipping into the state's rainy day fund to pay for new spending in education, health care, community prosperity projects and other areas.
Not perfect but the agreement is still a reason to be optimistic, especially considering ours is the only state in the union with a divided government. It's satisfying to see politicians govern for all of us, in a civil manner, instead of playing politics.
We realize that nothing is set in stone, and a special session—and perhaps political bombast from both sides—is in order before anything can be signed into law. But we want to give Gazelka, Walz and Hortman credit for getting this done. We're sure it wasn't easy but we appreciate the effort. Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, your kudos will have to wait until after the special session.
If there's a point of contention for us, though, it's the idea of using rainy day funds for new spending. That's a quick way to push our state into the red if—more likely when—another financial downturn rolls around.
There also was the problem of the bulk of the negotiations happening behind closed doors. Minnesotans deserve to see the processes involved in their government. Our state's leaders have promised more transparency with the special session, and we're certain we all will hold them to that.
What makes us happy is that no one is entirely happy with the budget bill, but everyone seems to be able to find parts of it they like. That's compromise—you can never get everything you want and you have to give up something in order to preserve other things.