Nornes, Hoffman want surplus to go to schoolsPublished 11:13am Thursday, March 1, 2012
Local legislators Bud Nornes and Gretchen Hoffman were in agreement on Wednesday after the announcement of a $323 million budget surplus in Minnesota: that money should be used to pay back schools.
In November 2011, the last state budget forecast announced a projected $876 million surplus. Wednesday’s forecast announced an additional surplus brought on by a recovering economy and reduced government spending.
Like the November surplus, however, the February surplus is already spoken for. In the fall, the money repaid the state’s sapped budget reserve accounts. This time around, the money is automatically slated to begin repaying deferred funding to schools – funding that was deferred in order to balance past budgets. The deferments have been increasing over the years, with the latest round coming in July 2011 as part of a deal struck to end the state government shutdown.
However, some lawmakers could try to use the money for something else, save it for a later date or convert it into tax cuts.
“If somebody did try to use it for something else, I would be in opposition to that,” said Senator Hoffman, who noted that it was a “struggle” for her and many other legislators to add to the school deferments last summer.
“There are many of us who want that school shift paid back,” she added.
Currently, the state owes public schools about $2.7 billion from funds it has deferred over several years. About $2.4 billion would remain if the projected surplus goes to the schools.
Though he said he wouldn’t be surprised if a lawmaker or two tries to make a play for the money, Rep. Nornes said he would not likely be in favor of using the funds for a different purpose.
“We should live up to that commitment,” he said.
Though the budget forecast explained that revenue forecasts were up by $93 million more than in November, it noted that more than two-thirds of the budget forecast’s surplus ($230 million) was due to decreased government spending.
“That is vindication for us,” said Hoffman of Republicans who attempted to balance the state’s biennium budget through cuts in 2011. She added, “None of the horrible things happened that everybody predicts.”
Hoffman said she hopes that GOP plans to reduce regulations on businesses and make government spending more efficient will continue to decrease spending and increase revenue going forward.
As for Nornes, he was happy once again that, as in November, many of the doomsayers were wrong about the state budget.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” he said of the surplus. “We were surprised last November with a positive number, and we were hearing rumors recently that we were sliding backward.”