Commentary: 2014 legislative session one of missed opportunities

Eden Prairie News
by Jenifer Loon

With the 2014 legislative session wrapped up, Minnesotans will now have the opportunity to evaluate the merits of legislation that passed this year and whether single-party control in St. Paul has been good for the taxpayers of our state.

From my perspective, I see this session as one of missed opportunities. Rather than focusing on growing government with higher taxes, we should have taken up proposals to reform outdated laws and eliminate ineffective programs. We still have too many policies that hinder small business growth and stifle economic freedom. I’m also disappointed the Legislature didn’t exercise more restraint when it came to spending your hard-earned tax dollars. In February we learned the state has a $1.2 billion projected budget surplus. Instead of recognizing this news as an indication that Minnesotans were overtaxed from the policies enacted in 2013, many legislators viewed this as an opportunity to spend more.

For instance, the omnibus spending bill that passed on the last day of the legislative session spends $262 million more for the current fiscal year and commits $850 million more in the next two budget years. Instead of rushing to spend tax dollars on a long wish list of “wants” like a $90 million office building for state senators or increasing pay for politicians, I would have preferred to focus on funding a few basic priorities and return the remaining surplus to those who paid the money in: you, the taxpayer.

Over the past two years, state government spending has increased by more than 12 percent at a time when our state’s economy has only grown by 4 percent. Overall spending grew by more than $1,500 for every man, woman and child in Minnesota. With the troubling news that Minnesota shed over 4,000 jobs in the month of April and that 49 percent of Minnesotans are under-employed, it’s conceivable we’ll see a reduction in tax revenue because of fewer people working. Such irresponsible increases in spending – especially given recent economic news – will likely put us into a situation where we are facing a deficit yet again.

In fact, we’re already seeing a trend in revenue shortfall. In February, state revenue was $16.6 million below projections. In March, the figure grew to $67 million below projections. In April, it grew even larger and revenue was $78 million below projections. All of this is occurring after historic tax increases of $2.1 billion were enacted in 2013.

The public entrusts their elected officials to be good stewards of their tax dollars. When I ask Eden Prairie residents about funding priorities for state government, a new office building and pay increases for politicians certainly do not rank high. As your voice in St. Paul, I never forget each and every dollar we spend in St. Paul comes out of the pockets of hard-working taxpayers like you. Prioritizing our spending, creating efficiencies and limiting the growth of state government is the only way to provide for a sustainable future for our state.