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Minnesota Democrats offer E-12 funding boost, public tuition freeze in budget proposal

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, on Monday, March 25, outlines spending priorities for House Democrats, including a boost for E-12 and a freeze on tuition at public colleges. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota House Democrats want to grow the state budget to boost funding for education, health care and road and bridge repairs.

The plan will require an "aggressive" change to the state's tax laws, a 20 cent per gallon increase on the tax on gasoline and the retention of a 2 percent tax on medical providers, Democratic leaders said Monday, March 25.

In return, Minnesotans would see a $900 million boost in E-12 education funding, $305 million more go toward higher education, which Democrats said could allow a tuition freeze at public institutions, and an extra $121 million be allocated for public safety.

“If we want to make new investments, if we want to strengthen Minnesota’s education system, and we should, we need new revenue,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said.

House Democrats kept their framework in line with Gov. Tim Walz's proposal, for the most part, but the price tag came in a little lower than Walz's budget at $47.8 billion as compared to the $49.4 billion plan the governor put forth for the next two years. House Democrats said they'd leave $635 million on the bottom line.

Democrats also put forth a $1.6 billion plan to fund public projects. That was more than Walz pitched as part of his bonding bill last month.

The budget framework sets up a conflict with Republicans who have said the state should skip new taxes and instead spend down a projected $1 billion surplus. Senate Republicans, who hold a majority in that chamber, were set to release their budget targets later this week.

“Today House Democrats joined the Walz/Flanagan administration in a contest to see who could tax and spend the most and unfortunately, Minnesota families and taxpayers will be the ultimate losers,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a statement. “They’re both spending more than we can afford at a pace that is simply unsustainable."

Democrats argued that the boosts to Minnesota schools or state-subsidized discounts for health insurance will require new money. And they were prepared to be transparent about where that would come from.

“We will have great roads. We will have great schools. We will have a great affordable health care system, and we will do it honestly," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said. "We're going to make a clear choice for Minnesotans: Either we pay for the things that we want or we can't do that."

Minnesota Senate leaders are set to announce their budget target later this week. And with the Senate, House and governor's spending plans out in the open, the three groups can come together to try to write a compromise plan before the legislative session wraps up on May 20.

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