Local officials have plenty of uses for state surplus

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Keeping schools open and the buses running gets more expensive all the time. ISD 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang would like to see more funds to better serve students in Minnesota’s school districts.

NEW ULM — New Ulm Mayor Terry Sveine sounded a bit surprised at the size of the $17.6 billion projected Minnesota budget surplus.

“That’s an incredible amount of money. We don’t really know what a billion or even a million is,” Sveine said. “I hope it’s used for some ongoing programs for the most part. I’ve seen programs before with one-time money that fell apart after two years. I want some stability out of this.”

Sveine said he thinks the big surplus is due to a good economic situation in Minnesota.

“I’m not so sure cutting taxes is a good way to go with it. Permanent tax cuts aren’t big on my list,” he added. “If I got $600 back, I’d spend it somewhere.”

Sveine said he’d like to see surplus money spent on the environment.

“That always speaks to me. That’s where we live and die, keeping lakes clean and free of invasive species,” he said. “Recycling can become ingrained in people’s lives. That’s really where the future is, instead of one-time fixes that look and feel good.”

District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang was optimistic the surplus would mean better funding for the schools. He said currently the state is not funding schools to their full requirement. For this reason districts need to pass special referendums for operating levies. Overall, taxes would go down. Bertrang called it a win-win for everyone.

Bertrang could not say for certain how District 88 would use any extra surplus funding. He anticipated the legislature would not come to an agreement on how to spend the surplus until May or June. Even with Democrats in control of the House and Senate, he suspected a special session could happen.

However, he anticipated there would be increases in school personnel costs for next year’s budget. Inflation also hits every aspect of education from school supplies to fueling the school buses. Some of the money would cover inflation’s impact.

The school is already working to provide additional mental health support in the district. The surplus could further help support students and families.

While he remained cautiously optimistic the surplus would mean greater support for Minnesota school, Bertrang said he was concerned additional funding could come with extra requirements to qualify for surplus funds.

Minnesota District 16B Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, the incoming Minnesota House Assistant Minority Leader, had a number of ideas about what to do with the state budget surplus.

“It’s a phenomenal number, about one-third of our annual state budget,” Torkelson said. “It’s largely one-time money, as a result of federal money unspent the last couple years.”

“First, there’s no way we should even consider raising any taxes this biennium (two-year period). I’d like to see tax relief. It’s obvious we’re overtaxing people. We’re one of the few states taxing Social Security.”

Torkelson said the bonding bill was not finished last year and it makes sense to get it rolling sooner this year with rising construction costs.

“One-time spending makes more sense than establishing programs we’d have to fund in the future,” he added. “We have to ensure government operates as efficiently as possible. Some money has gone for illegal things frankly, like $250 million for Feeding Our Future (a Minnesota-based non-profit) that falsely claimed to be feeding needy children with federal child nutrition program money).”

The Republican committee lead for Transportation Finance and Policy, Torkelson said he’s fond of transportation work.

“We need to address roads and bridges including small towns and townships that have lots of transportation costs too,” he added.

New Ulm Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Sarah Warmka sent a statement on the record budget surplus announcement Tuesday from Minnesota Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Doug Loon.

“This budget surplus isn’t just historically high. Today’s announced surplus is 90% higher than the previous record-high set last year,” said Loon. “While lawmakers approach session flush with cash, employers, employees and families face high costs and economic uncertainty for the future.”

“Legislators have an obligation to act responsibly on behalf of our economy and our people,” he added. “After nine consecutive years of budget surpluses, Minnesota should join other sates in meaningful tax reforms to encourage investment and create opportunity for our state.”


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