Last week it was public safety, and this week Democrats and Republicans at the Minnesota Legislature are officially drawing battle lines on education and tax cuts, as lawmakers wrangle over a nine-billion-dollar budget surplus.
Republicans are blasting House Democrats’ proposed 3.3-billion-dollar increase for E-12 education over the next four years, which focuses on closing funding gaps in special-ed and English-learner programs, plus beefing up mental health services for students. Minneapolis D-F-Ler Jim Davnie says, “The House DFL is ready to meet the moment, step up to our responsibilities — and I invite the Senate to join us.” Republican Senator Roger Chamberlain from Lino Lakes responds, after historic funding in last year’s budget, “sending billions of dollars into more administration isn’t the solution.” Chamberlain says Senate Republicans’ top priorities are “reducing burdens and mandates, stabilizing classrooms, getting kids back in school, and addressing our failing test scores” — noting 40 percent of Minnesota children can’t read at their grade level.
Saint Paul Representative Dave Pinto says House Democrats also propose statewide voluntary pre-K for low-income and vulnerable children. “Since the earliest years of life set the foundation for everything that follows, expanding access to early learning is one of the best ways to reduce disparities,” he says. Republican Senator Chamberlain responds 40 percent of Minnesota kinds cannot read at their grade level and Republicans are focused on proven solutions to change that.
Senate Republicans say a nine-billion-dollar budget surplus proves the state overcollected and Minnesotans deserve permanent tax cuts. House Democrats’ point man, Dilworth Representative Paul Marquart, responds the state can give a little tax relief to everyone including millionaires — like Republicans want, “or you can look at it and say, how can we make a real difference in people’s lives, and really move the dial?” Democrats propose child care tax credits for working families plus property tax cuts which they say will help seniors stay in their homes. Republicans respond lawmakers shouldn’t pick winners and losers — instead, put more money in Minnesotans’ pockets and let *them* decide how to use it.
One of Senate Republicans’ top agenda items is totally eliminating state income tax on Social Security benefits, which they say is hurting senior citizens and driving people out of Minnesota. House Democrats propose no tax on Social Security benefits for any senior with annual income under 75 thousand dollars — and also the biggest property tax cuts in over 20 years, says Dilworth Democrat Paul Marquart. “I think what senior citizens think about the most is, how can I remain independent? How can I stay in my home that I’ve raised my family in, and I still have Christmas and have the grandkids there,” he says.
Senate Republicans have a hearing on their tax plan this morning (830am start) and House Democrats have a hearing on their tax bill this afternoon (1pm).