Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s two-year budget plan would pump more than a half billion dollars into education, increase the number of food inspectors by 26, add facilities at some parks, fund better supervision of child abuse programs, improve railroad crossings and provide hundreds of other changes.
He would do it without a general tax increase.
Dayton’s increased spending, which would bring the budget that begins next July 1 to about $42 billion, comes from a $1 billion surplus.
The surplus, announced late last year, normally would have been taken up by state agencies paying for higher wages, utility bills and other inflationary costs. However, Dayton said, he wants agencies to absorb most of that inflation by taking money-saving measures such as leaving jobs open.
Dayton surprised no one by making education his top fiscal priority, as he has since he ran for governor in 2010. He proposes setting aside $418 million of the budget for education through high school and $93 million for higher education.
“Minnesota’s future success — and health of our families, the vitality of our communities and the prosperity of our state — will depend upon our making excellent education available to all Minnesotans,” Dayton said. “That is exactly what my budget proposal aims to do.”
Commissioner Myron Frans of Minnesota Management and Budget said the state is in better fiscal state than it has been for years. Many state officials expect a new state revenue report due in a month to show a larger surplus, and thus giving legislators and Dayton more money to spend.
The budget continues a modern-day trend, broken just once, of increasing the budget each year. The current two-year budget is $39.6 billion.
After Dayton, a Democrat, and the Democratic-controlled Legislature raised taxes $2 billion two years ago, there was little change in taxes in this Dayton budget.
“We are in a position where we can meet the needs without a general tax increase,” Dayton said.
The governor’s budget plan will be used at the basis for legislators to draw up their own spending plans. However, those will not come until after a new report on the state’s economy and expected tax revenues, tentatively scheduled for Feb. 27. Dayton also will revise his budget proposal after the report and propose a public works bill funded by the state selling bonds.
One item not in the Dayton budget drew the ire of nursing home advocates and Republicans.
The Long Term Care Imperative, representing facilities such as nursing homes, issued a statement saying members were disappointed that Dayton did not include more funds for their cause.
“As 60,000 Minnesotans will turn 65 this year, and next year, and until at least 2031, the demand for care will continue to grow,” the imperative statement said. “We need to start the conversation immediately about how we are going to address the care of aging Minnesotans.”
House Republicans won the majority in November’s election by winning Democratic seats in rural areas, where the most nursing home fiscal problems are found. House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he was not happy that Dayton skipped increasing funding for them.
Dayton said that nursing homes have received $93 million in new founds in the past four years, so opted not to include new funding in this budget. However, he said in response to a reporter’s question, nursing home funding will be near the top of his priority list if the Feb. 27 report shows a bigger surplus.
Overall, Republicans were critical that Dayton wants to increase spending as much as he does.
Daudt said that if Dayton’s budget were to be adopted, its increased spending would cost every Minnesotan $1,244.
Democrats were happy with the Dayton plan.
“Gov. Dayton’s budget proposals reflect the values and priorities all Minnesotans share,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said. “I am pleased his budget proposal funds a comprehensive transportation plan, invests in our youngest learners, supports economic and workforce development initiatives, and maintains the balanced budget in the years ahead.”
Dayton took the rare step of withholding new money from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system until a dispute between faculty and the administration is settled.
The money would have gone to allow MnSCU continue a tuition freeze. The governor proposes to give the University of Minnesota $93 million more to continue its freeze.
The MnSCU controversy centers on an initiative, Charting the Future, established by Chancellor Steven Rosenstone. Seven faculty organizations have passed “no confidence” votes against Rosenstone for the initiative, which is designed to streamline the system.
MnSCU leaders on both sides of the dispute said Tuesday that they are working toward an agreement.
Youth-related programs and health and human services spending account for 75 percent of Dayton’s new proposals.
Featured in his education funding plan is providing free pre-kindergarten programs to 4-year-olds.
Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said the programs will be voluntary for school districts, and local officials could decide what schools would offer the programs.
Dayton also would put more money into general public school needs and he wants $100 million available for child-care tax credits that can be used for working families.
The Dayton budget plan also would spend:
— $30 million to improve broadband Internet service, mostly in rural Minnesota.
— $33 million gained from a railroad assessment would help improve rail safety, mostly on tracks that carry North Dakota oil. He also plans to ask legislators to approve borrowing $43 million for rail safety (mostly to improve rail crossing in the Prairie Island Indian Community, Willmar and Moorhead).
— $10 million to buy two used airplanes for state use, replacing two aging ones that need more maintenance than they are worth. He said the state will reduce the number of airplanes and helicopters it owns.
— $2.5 million to improve oversight and training for county public health workers dealing with child abuse. Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said more money may be needed after a series of recommendations is released in March.
Also folded into the budget is money for more Agriculture Department food inspectors: 11 wholesale food inspectors, 10 retail inspectors and five meat inspectors.
Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr said parks and trails would receive $7.2 million more, going to things such as new facilities at state parks.
The budget plan Dayton released Tuesday is for state programs funded by general tax revenues. However, when transportation, federally funded state programs and other initiatives are considered, the all-accounts budget can nearly double the state taxpayer-funded portion.
Some examples of two-year budgets over the years:
— 1964-1965, $770 million
— 1974-1975, $3.5 billion
— 1984-1985, $9.8 billion
— 1994-1995, $16.7 billion
— 2004-2005, $28.1 billion
— 2006-2007, $31.5 billion
— 2008-2009, $33.9 billion
— 2010-2011, $30 billion
— 2012-2013, $35.3 billion
— 2014-2015, $39.6 billion
— 2016-2017, $42 billion
How the governor’s proposed budget funded by general tax revenues would be spent:
— Public school education: 42 percent
— Health and human services: 28 percent
— Property tax aids and credits: 8 percent
— Higher education: 7 percent
— Judiciary, public safety: 5 percent
— Other: 10 percent
Notes: Property tax aids and credits include programs such as aid to local governments. Most transportation funding comes from other sources not included in the state’s main budget.