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Our view: What happened to restraint, DFL?

A news story the other day said Minnesota lawmakers "must decide exactly how to raise about $2 billion for the state ... before the Legislature adjourns Monday."...

Minnesota Capitol
The Capitol in St. Paul (File / Associated Press)

A news story the other day said Minnesota lawmakers "must decide exactly how to raise about $2 billion for the state ... before the Legislature adjourns Monday."

Must? And, $2 billion? Why do lawmakers feel obligated to raise our taxes by so much?

Tax revenues being collected by the state of late suggest restraint rather than over-the-top spending in these waning days of the 2013 session. Collections from corporate and individual taxes are far exceeding forecasters' projections for three straight months now, for February, March and April, according to a Minnesota Management and Budget report released last week. That means about $300 million more are in the state's coffers than lawmakers and state officials planned for or budgeted for.

In addition, the budget forecast in February reduced by nearly half a billion dollars the state's expected deficit. The deficit in November was projected at $1.1 billion. In February, the projection was reduced to $627 million.

But the tax-and-spend thirst continued seemingly unabated in St. Paul. Remember those DFL pledges of restraint and responsibility and those vows not to overreach heard at the beginning of the session? They've long since been drowned out by the clamoring of special interests and spending advocates eager for their payday after helping sweep the Democrats into control of both the state House and Senate in the fall.

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"When you have no (political) balance (in government) this is what you get," former tax chairman Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, pointed out in a Forum News Service report published in yesterday's News Tribune.

"With more money coming in," the St. Paul Pioneer Press opined earlier in the week, "DFLers ... have some explaining to do as voters hold them accountable for a budget deal that could increase taxes by at least $2 billion over the next two years."

"At least," indeed; some estimates predict the tax hike at closer to $3 billion or more.

But will voters hold lawmakers accountable? There are things to like in the emerging state budget, after all, especially on its spending side. There's expected to be $725 million for education, from kindergarten through college, including paying back the state's public school districts the money taken to solve past state budget shortfalls. And there's expected to be $627 million to close the current budget gap. In addition, taxes on clothing, haircuts and other things once considered and that would have hit hardest middle-class Minnesotans no longer appear to be in the mix.

St. Paul's spend-spend mentality this session flies in the face of serious warnings about putting at risk Minnesota's ability to compete for jobs, new businesses and new industries. A new tax bracket on the state's top 2 percent promises to be among the nation's highest.

"Making Minnesota an income tax outlier ... won't be helpful in attracting and sustaining private-sector investment," the Star Tribune of Minneapolis opined this week. "In addition, like a bad penny, a bad tax policy idea that disappeared two months ago turned up again Sunday. Applying the state sales tax to some currently untaxed business-to-business purchases will be part of the plan." And of concern, even if the revenue raised on the backs of private businesses still struggling to survive the recession will be used to encourage economic development.

Economic warnings and spending concerns can be directed at Republicans this session, too. They didn't offer a budget of their own, only criticism.

But for the DFL majority, including lawmakers from Northeastern Minnesota, it's not too late. They still can recall their pledges of restraint and responsibility and their vows not to overreach -- and they still can do just that.

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