Dec. 7—The news Tuesday of Minnesota's $17.6 billion budget surplus is once again welcome news and indicates a steady financial base for the State of Minnesota heading into the 2023 Legislative session.
However, now it's time to see if the Legislature itself is ready to do the work necessary to get the job done — something it failed to do last year.
Over $7 billion in surplus money was left on the table after 2022's session, not because there wasn't anything to spend money on, but because the legislature stumbled through the end of last year's session leaving several priorities on the table. To be fair, arguments pressed from both sides stalled several issues.
This year, with Democrats in charge of both the House and the Senate, it's likely their priorities will take center stage with the wish list including mental health services in schools, nutrition assistance and day-care funding.
"I think we will be looking to see what can we all agree on? What are we all agreed on? Because we've talked to so many Minnesotans across the state that agree on so much. And they want us to get the work done," said DFL Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, quoted in a Minnesota Public Radio story. "And so that's what we're going to be looking for."
That first sentence is key. In a period of time when claiming majority is more akin to winning some sort of battle, finding something we all agree on is difficult, not because there is nothing to agree on, but rather because the other side is seemingly dismissed out of hand because they don't control enough chairs.
That can't happen. Despite being in the majority, Democrats have to be open-minded to the Republican Party if we truly want to ensure we are all agreeing on.
That includes Republican's No. 1 goal over the past few years — tax relief. Gov. Tim Walz indicated on Tuesday that he was open to some tax relief, particularly an easing of the state's partial income tax on Social Security benefits, while at the same time ruling out eliminating it all together for the wealthiest Minnesotans.
Finding ways to get some of that surplus back into the hands of Minnesotans should indeed be a priority. The current inflation Minnesotans are coping with can be alleviated by returning some of this expected surplus back into the hands of citizens, but it shouldn't be the sole goal either.
There is no 100% guarantee for anything, but the key to getting the biggest bang for our buck is keeping an open mind to each side's ideas. We can't just keep moving forward with a "our side vs. your side" mentality.
While nobody is advocating for simply spending the surplus on any old thing, we also can't afford to let it sit where it is without having meaningful discussion with each other on what to do with it.