Dayton’s budget focused squarely on education

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Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed a $42 billion, two-year budget heavily focused on Minnesota’s youngest residents.

Unveiled Tuesday, Dayton’s budget framework would spend most of the state’s projected $1 billion surplus on program areas like early childhood education and child health, and would provide nearly $100 million in child care assistance tax credits to Minnesota families.

The plan would increase state spending by roughly $2.5 billion more in 2016-2017 over the current biennium and leave $35 million of the projected surplus unspent.

“I’m placing my priority on the future of Minnesota,” Dayton said during a morning news conference.

The proposed spending, he said, is aimed squarely at closing the state’s achievement gap between white and minority students by doing more, earlier, to place less of a burden on the state’s schools to solve the disparities.

Included in the governor’s budget are:

  • an additional $373 million in pre-K-12 education spending;
  • $109 million to provide free, voluntary statewide pre-K programs for 4 year olds;
  • $93 million in new higher education spending;
  • $44 million of new investment to improve access to child care for low-income families; and
  • funding to cover free breakfasts for all pre-K-third grade students.

Republican leaders swiftly criticized the governor’s budget proposal, accusing Dayton of throwing more money at education without proposing needed reforms to help tackle issues like the achievement gap.

Dayton’s “fallback position is to go back to Minnesotans for more tax dollars,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Daudt called the governor’s proposed $42 billion budget “unsustainable,” though he declined to say what level of spending his caucus would support over the next biennium. House Republicans are expected to release a budget proposal of their own in the coming weeks.

“At the end of the day, it’s another huge tax increase and another huge increase in spending,” Daudt said.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen (DFL-Mpls) praised the proposed budget, saying House DFLers support Dayton’s “commitment to our children and their schools.”

“Sufficiently funding care for our seniors, continuing work we started to lower property taxes, building a comprehensive long term transportation plan, investing in early learners, making college more affordable and growing economic security for Minnesota families are our top priorities,” Thissen said in a statement.

The governor’s budget proposes no new general tax increases, though it calls for removing what he termed “corporate tax loopholes” and modifying the state’s railroad-related property tax laws to generate more revenue for safety-related rail improvements across the state.

Dayton’s transportation plan released Monday also calls for new transportation revenue in the form of a new wholesale fuel tax to support road and bridge improvements, and an expanded metro-area sales tax to pay for new transit projects.

Notably, the governor’s budget would not spend more on nursing homes nor long-term care programs. Nor does it include more funding for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system — with Dayton saying he would propose to withhold additional funding due to an ongoing faculty dispute. It would also cut funds to the Minneapolis Parks Board, which has held up progress on the planned Southwest Light Rail line in the west metro.

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