Our View: New spending plan offers flexibility

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, right, and Gov. Mark Dayton discuss a transportation bill as top leaders met the media before the current session in St. Paul. Dayton outlined his new spending proposal this week.

Gov. Mark Dayton want to leave the state in better shape than he found it.

"When I took office in 2011, our state government faced a projected $6 billion budget deficit, following a decade of deficits," he said as he released details of his proposal for nearly $700 million in new spending during the current two-year budget period. "The lieutenant governor and I are committed to ensuring our state does not fall back into that same fiscal mess."

It's an admirable goal during his last term in office. Faced with the uncertainty of a presidential election year, along with forecasts for a potential 2018 recession, Dayton scaled back his spending goals, aiming to leave a $202 million cushion.

It's not the right time for the go-big-or-go-home talk heard between sessions.

Yet, Dayton did propose some bold moves, such as setting aside $100 million for expanding broadband Internet access throughout the state and another $100 million for programs aimed at expanding economic opportunities for Minnesotans of color. Another $77 million is targeted for education and early childhood programs, including a scaled-back voluntary preschool initiative.


At the same time, Dayton is targeting $117 million in tax relief, primarily aimed at middle-class families, but well short of what House Republicans are seeking.

It's all a preamble for a likely showdown on many fronts as lawmakers in both the House and Senate prepare their own proposals for debate throughout the next nine weeks. While Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk quickly supported his fellow Democrat's proposals, House Speaker Kurt Daudt said it falls short in tax relief needed to a make the state more competitive.

Dayton's plan to keep some rainy-day funds on the table for the next budget provides a nice starting point and allows needed flexibility with a split legislature on an election year.

We know all of Dayton's proposals won't survive the upcoming committee debates; aggressive broadband proposals haven't fared well in recent years, despite an obvious need and the potential to provide all corners of the state a more competitive business climate.

Likewise, we see room for improvement in the governor's proposals. We'd especially like to see more discussion about opportunities to reduce property tax pressures on small businesses.

However, all such conversations should keep in mind Dayton's goal of retaining added reserves. In less than a year, the expected surplus dropped by $300 million. Saving $200 million this year in case 2017 offers a repeat performance makes sense.

We know there are those who would like to see the state return the remaining funds to taxpayers, either through tax relief or added programs, but failing to plan ahead could leave lawmakers in a position requiring them to undo the accomplishments seen in recent years.

Taking the prudent step toward ensuring future flexibility will help the state remain on the right track.

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