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Our View: Embrace balance in deciding fate of $1.5 billion

A billion-and-a-half-dollar pile of cash has nearly everyone, it seems — in St. Paul and across Minnesota — perking up with ideas and opinions. The state's just-announced budget surplus, its sixth in six years, promises to overshadow and influence just about everything that'll happen and be deliberated during the legislative session that kicks off in just 23 days.

Save it. Give it back to taxpayers. Leverage it to make tax cuts. Use it to reduce government spending. Let it head off a talked-about gas tax increase. Or spend it on fixing our roads and bridges, expanding broadband, improving education, increasing housing, better paying state troopers and other state workers, or taking care of other needs.

There are about as many ideas and options and viewpoints as there are surplus dollars. A sampling of the many views is published on today's Opinion page.

While lower tax collections clearly are called for, all options can be on the table when DFL Gov. Tim Walz and the nation's only divided Legislature go to work after the holidays. Whatever spending plan they adopt, it can include future funding considerations, even if it means cutting elsewhere.

One thing is certain: A good chunk of the surplus will be put into savings. A fiscally responsible state law dictates that about $400 million go straight into the state's reserves. Money in the bank is almost never a bad idea. The future is unknown. Our current economic uptick won't last forever. Saving during times of prosperity is the responsible thing to do.

After that, with regard to spending the surplus, how to spend it, whether to return it to taxpayers, how much to return to taxpayers, and more, the decisions of Walz and the Legislature begin with budget negotiations. The state constitution requires a balanced budget be approved in odd-numbered years like 2019. If one isn't, state government shuts down. Walz's priorities and direction will be known first. His two-year budget proposal is due Feb. 19.

In line with his campaign, Walz has spoken in support of using the surplus for infrastructure improvements, making health care more affordable, and improving education. Republicans have been advocating to use the surplus instead of increasing taxes for things like road construction.

Minnesotans statewide can appreciate lawmakers and the governor working together and compromising to make the best decisions for all. Such decisions can include wise spending, responsible saving, and budgeting that keeps in mind how Minnesota residents and businesses already are among the most-taxed in the nation.

Balance can best benefit the most Minnesotans.

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