Viewpoint: Latest budget surplus brings good news to Capitol
By Tony Jurgens, House District 54B
Happy Holidays! As this is my first column since Election Day, I wanted to thank you for allowing me to continue serving as your voice in the Minnesota House. I am humbled by your support and once again look forward to fighting for the needs of Hastings, Cottage Grove, Afton Denmark Township and Nininger Township in St. Paul.
An early Christmas present has already arrived at the state Capitol, as we recently learned that Minnesota's latest fiscal forecast shows a budget surplus of $1.544 billion for the next two-year budget cycle. This likely continues the four-year trend where lawmakers have not had to eliminate a budget deficit.
Of this amount, $491 million will be sent to our budget reserve account, which now contains more than $2 billion. That means just over $1 billion will remain for the Legislature to allocate before next session ends.
Keep in mind, this surplus exists because the state's revenue collections — or taxes you paid to state government — exceeds the amount of anticipated expenses. Also remember that in early March we will receive an updated forecast that will be the official benchmark used by the Legislature as it moves forward and sets the budget for the next two years.
So if the positive economic trends continue, or even improve, what should be done with this money? Last session we approved historic tax relief proposals, and I think more of them should be given consideration this session, particularly when it comes to eliminating taxation on Social Security benefits. Using some of the surplus on road and bridge repair needs might also make sense.
One thing is for sure: with this projected budget surplus we should not be thinking about any tax increases this session.
This positive news shows that a lot of the policies we enacted over the past two years are paying off. Republicans and the governor's office will likely battle over who should accept credit for the surplus, but rather than focusing on that, I believe we should just agree that this surplus is a good thing and recognize that Minnesotans will benefit from last session's work.
With the 2019 session less than a month away, I already have a handful of bills that I'm ready to submit for consideration. These proposals will center on veterans, senior citizens, students and local issues. I'll share more information on those in the coming weeks following their official introductions.
But I also want to hear from you, so mark your calendars! On Saturday, Jan. 5 I will be holding a series of listening sessions throughout the district. The sessions will take place 8:30-9:30 a.m. at Hastings City Hall; 10-11 at Cottage Grove City Hall; and 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Afton City Hall.
Sen. Karla Bigham has a previous engagement and will be unable to attend, so we are hoping to hold joint town meetings sometime after the legislative session begins.
At a recent Hastings City Council meeting, it was my honor to present outgoing Hastings Mayor Paul Hicks with a Minnesota House resolution recognizing his leadership and service to the community. Paul not only served 28 years as mayor and city council member, but he also serves in a nonpartisan capacity in the Minnesota House with the chief clerk's office and does great work there as well. Congratulations Mayor Hicks on a job well done.
Congratulations are also in order for Mayor Richard Bend and councilman Joe Richter of Afton, who are also stepping away from city leadership. Please join me in thanking them both for their commitment to the residents of Afton.
As always, I am always available to respond to your thoughts and concerns. Feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 651-296-3135 to share your input. I look forward to hearing from you.