Sen. Dan Schoen viewpoint: GOP majorities must change their tune
Last week, we started to see the priorities of the Senate GOP majority, based on their budget proposals. I was presented with the recommendations for the Judiciary and Public Safety budget, which had a target of $59 million. While this seems like a significant amount of funding, we project all current spending — that is spending for all programs currently in place with no additions — to cost $2.172 billion this biennium. In addition, we expect inflationary increases to come in higher than the $59 million allocated for this budget. Seventy percent of Judiciary's budget is personnel related, including salaries, pensions and health care. The low level of funding for this important budget may have unfortunate consequences for police, firefighters and other public safety personnel.
During committee this year, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety asked for technological upgrades to track registered sex offenders, staff to provide lab analysis for drugs and violent crimes and special agents that provide expertise that local police departments can't afford in drug and homicide cases. The Department of Corrections asked for technological upgrades and for more correctional officers to guard the people who commit crimes upon our society to keep those prisoners inside the walls of the prison. It's clear with the level of funding they budgeted, Senate Republicans virtually ignored these requests.
I tried to mitigate the damage by authoring an amendment to include funding for Bureau of Criminal Apprehension homicide and narcotic agents and police training. Sadly, amendment after amendment I authored failed on party line votes, with Democrats in the committee the only voice of support.
In addition, I co-authored legislation to provide $10 million a year for law enforcement training reimbursements for our communities. This was so communities could afford to provide critical officer training necessary to maintain their own safety and help build relationships in our communities. Instead, the Senate Majority Republicans funded this important program at $360,000 a year, which doesn't scratch the surface of the needs our police departments have been requesting.
Senate Republicans also allowed a tax on rail and pipeline companies, which provides training money to local fire departments for incidents such as an oil train explosion, to expire. All three of Minnesota's major rail lines, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific, run through our district. This funding is critical for firefighter safety in our area.
In the next two weeks, the Senate will hear omnibus budget bills on the floor. For the next biennium, the governor and the Republican majorities are not that far apart. The Republicans propose about $45 billion in spending increases and the governor proposes about $46 billion. The spending priorities are what vastly differ.
The GOP House has proposed $1.35 billion in tax cuts and the Senate has proposed $900 million. Under their plan, many people may experience some form of tax relief. However, it is important to know that these tax cut proposals will benefit the rich the most. In contrast, Gov. Mark Dayton's plan would cut taxes by $229 million for 450,000 Minnesotans while increasing local aid by $79 million to help working families' property taxes. This is a more reasonable approach, considering the uncertainty in the economy if President Donald Trump is unable to deliver on the promises of infrastructure spending and tax cuts. In addition, Dayton will not accept deep cuts to human services, higher education, schools or arbitrary cuts to state agencies, which will negatively affect the services Minnesota provides its residents.
The judiciary and public safety budget area alone reflects a stark difference in values between leaders at the Capitol. With a $1.65 billion surplus, we shouldn't be neglecting public safety so we can fund things like $900 million in tax cuts that won't benefit working families like it should.
As a police officer, I'm used to hearing everyone telling us how much they support law enforcement officers and firefighters. In this case, the House and Senate Republican's actions in cutting funding to public safety, police and firefighters speak louder than their empty words. With two months left in the 2017 legislative session, I hope the Republican majorities change their tune and do what's right for all Minnesotans.
Dan Schoen represents Minnesota Senate District 54.