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COL Too much, too late

Senate Democrats propose $1 billion new spending

The Senate Democrats' budget proposal is a day late and a dollar short. Make that a couple of months late and a billion dollars short.

With a month left in a legislative session that started in January, Senate Democrats are finally putting budget plans on the table. Unfortunately, they only did half the job.

It is irresponsible for Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and his caucus to suggest $1 billion in new state spending this late in the session without proposing a method for paying the bill.

The Senate DFL plan pitches 5 percent per year increases in funding for K-12 education. Funding would also increase for higher education and early childhood education. Additional money would also be spent on public safety programs and nursing home employees would get much-deserved pay increases.

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The closest Democrats came to suggesting a method for paying for these new expenses is to say they have $900 million of "potential tax increases," Johnson said.

Johnson and his caucus were mum about which taxes would increase. Under consideration are higher cigarette taxes, a sales tax on clothing and increased liquor taxes.

Johnson said his caucus would offer more specifics on the tax increases in the coming weeks. Well, folks, we're running out of weeks. What have Johnson and his caucus mates been doing for the last 31⁄2; months?

The Legislature is constitionally required to end business on May 23 and the state needs a budget to do business beyond June 30.

We're not big fans of suggesting a $900 million tax increase this late in the session, especially given the governor's well-known reticence to approve statewide tax increases. By waiting until early May to reveal proposed tax increases to pay for additional spending, Senate DFLers are shortchanging everyone who should be involved in a meaningful debate about increased spending.

State revenues are expected to increase about 8 percent during the next biennium and the governor has proposed spending 6 percent more over the next two years. We'd back a 5 cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax because that tax hasn't been increased since the 1980s and our roads need increased investment.

Senate DFLers want to increase spending for education, which we concur is a laudable goal. But by waiting until May to suggest methods for paying the bill, they're trying to avoid taking heat for significant tax increases.

At this point, it's much too late in the session to have a serious debate about a sales tax on clothing and increasing the cigarette tax.

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Johnson and the Democrats waited much too long to put out a $900 million wish list with no plan to pay for it. Let's move forward and live within our means.

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