Add your voice: expand the Working Family Credit

With just days left in this legislative session, much is at stake as Minnesota responds to the federal tax changes passed last December. But the Legislature’s tax plan leaves out 1 in 5 Minnesotans who don’t earn enough to benefit from their bill’s tax cuts.

Join us in asking policymakers instead to make everyday Minnesotans a priority in this year’s tax bill by expanding the Working Family Tax Credit. Governor Mark Dayton’s Working Family Credit expansion proposal would benefit 329,000 Minnesota workers and families, providing an average tax reduction of $160.

The Working Family Credit makes our tax system fairer, supports work, and gets Minnesota kids off to a stronger start. It also reaches all parts of the state: 49 percent of Minnesota workers and families who receive the Working Family Credit live in Greater Minnesota and 51 percent in the Twin Cities metro area.

Two things you can do today:
Email your legislator.
Call Governor Mark Dayton. Thank him for his leadership on this issue and ask him to continue to make the Working Family Credit a top priority.

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Nibbling around the edges: the Legislature’s Health and Human Services proposals fail to fully address critical issues

With just over a week left in the legislative session, lawmakers have finalized their supplemental proposals for the state’s health and human services budget. Both the House and Senate proposals start to address important issues, such as child care, the opioid crisis, and abuse of vulnerable adults, but miss big opportunities to protect and expand affordable health care in Minnesota.

The supplemental budget gives lawmakers the opportunity to adjust the two-year state budget that was passed last session. The House and Senate health and human services budget proposals are comparatively small: the House bill has a net $67 million General Fund impact through 2021, and the Senate bill has a net $69 million General Fund impact.

The legislative proposals do include some important investments. First, both the House and Senate authorize family-friendly changes in Minnesota’s Child Care Assistance Program, including expediting the application process for homeless families; allowing continuous access to child care assistance for families that move into a county with a waiting list; making it easier for families transitioning off of Minnesota’s welfare-to-work program to retain access to child care; and increasing provider reimbursement rates. However, the federal funding these state proposals rely on won’t fully fund these child care improvements in the future. Additional state investment, such as what is included in the Governor Mark Dayton’s supplemental budget proposal, is necessary to fully address the child care crisis in Minnesota.

Additionally, both proposals include some new funding to address the ongoing opioid crisis. They also start to address the threats to vulnerable adults, though the Senate proposal is expected to move as a standalone bill.

These Legislative proposals also do not include solutions to ensure Minnesotans have affordable health care options in 2019 and beyond. Dayton’s supplemental budget proposal includes an important step to sustainably fund affordable health care by repealing the scheduled sunset of the health care provider tax, the largest state funding source for public health and affordable health care. However, the House and Senate would allow the sunset to go forward, and fail to address the more than $600 million annual shortfall that the state’s Health Care Access Fund will face starting in 2021.

Dayton’s MinnesotaCare buy-in option would allow people who are in the individual market the option to buy an affordable MinnesotaCare plan. This would provide more affordable health care choices for approximately 100,000 Minnesotans. This proposal is particularly timely, considering that health insurance premiums in the individual market are expected to increase in 2019. Neither legislative proposal includes the MinnesotaCare buy-in, and in the House finance proposal and the Senate tax bill would prohibit this option.

The House bill does seek to expand affordable health care options by permitting the sale of short-term, limited-duration health insurance plans. However, these plans fall short of meeting Minnesotans’ needs. The plans are not required to cover important services such as maternity care or substance abuse treatment, and they allow discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions.

While neither legislative proposal contains the harmful provisions heard earlier this session to take health care away from people who are unable to comply with burdensome paperwork requirements, this provision may move ahead as an individual bill before session ends on May 21. Estimates indicate that 25,400 people could be pushed off of their health care through Medical Assistance if this provision becomes law.

However, the House proposal places more barriers to seeing doctors through Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare, and putting healthy food on the table through SNAP. A provision included in the House proposal is designed to double-check that Minnesotans are eligible for these supports through a third-party vendor. If a person is flagged by the vendor, it puts the person at risk of losing their health care or assistance to buy nutritious food. This double-checking will likely cause eligible Minnesotans to lose access to food and health care because of data entry errors or having an old address in the system.

Overall, the legislative supplemental health and human services budget proposals miss opportunities to help Minnesotans thrive. They fail to provide more affordable health care options, and only nibble around the edges of the opioid crisis, protecting vulnerable Minnesotans, and ensuring affordable child care is available around the state.

-Sarah Orange

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We’re hiring a summer research intern!

The Minnesota Budget Project is hiring a research intern who will make a significant contribution to our work on state immigration policy and economic trends affecting immigrants in Minnesota. This intern will conduct research and work with Minnesota Budget Project staff to produce analytic materials. The ideal candidate will have strong quantitative and data analysis skills.

The Minnesota Budget Project is an initiative of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits that combines sound research and analysis with advocacy, engagement and communications strategies to support policies that expand opportunity and economic security to all Minnesotans.

This is a paid internship. Candidates who have the lived experience of moving to the United States are encouraged to apply. More information, including how to apply, is available on the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits website. The application deadline is Monday, May 21.

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House budget targets devote 2/3 of surplus to taxes, transportation

The Minnesota House of Representatives’ budget targets tell us how they propose to allocate the state’s projected $329 million surplus for FY 2018-19. The House targets put the bulk of the surplus toward tax reductions and transportation.

The targets are an important milestone in the budgeting process. They set the size of the House’s omnibus budget bills. Last year, policymakers passed the state’s FY 2018-19 two-year budget, so any budget decisions this year would be adjustments to that budget.

House General Fund Targets (net) FY 2018-19
Tax Cuts and Aids to Local Governments $107 million
Transportation $101 million
Education $30 million
Jobs and Energy $15 million
Health and Human Services $10 million
Capital Investment $8.9 million
Public Safety $7.1 million
Higher Education $5 million
Environment and Natural Resources $750,000
Agriculture $250,000
State Government -$7 million
Other Bills $51 million
Net Changes $329 million

Taxes get the largest piece of the projected surplus. The tax bill needs to respond to the federal tax bill passed in December. This was a sweeping and complicated piece of legislation, and since Minnesota’s individual income tax and corporate tax systems use federal tax law as their starting point, Minnesota policymakers have to decide how to respond to those federal changes. We have urged policymakers to honor Minnesota values, including treating taxpayers fairly, continuing to practice fiscal responsibility, and maintaining the revenues to sustainably fund the state’s priorities. Taking targeted action that prioritizes low- and middle-income taxpayers should be the goal.

Transportation is the second largest funding priority for the surplus. Traditionally, transportation has relied more on dedicated funding sources, rather than competing with schools, health care, and other priorities for general fund dollars.

Since the targets allocate most of the projected surplus toward taxes and transportation, they leave little room for investments in other areas of the budget. The House indicated that some investments, like those addressing the opioid crisis and funding for vulnerable adults, could be included in the “Other Bills” category.

The House budget also would accelerate a $75 million transfer to Minnesota’s budget reserve from unused funds that had been dedicated to the Premium Subsidy Account. Every year, Minnesota Management and Budget sets a goal for the budget reserve that would get the state through most recessions. This addition would get our state a little closer to that goal.

The Senate has not released targets, although they have been developing their supplemental budget bill. We’ll be watching closely as the House, Senate, and Governor Mark Dayton put together the final budget in these final weeks of the 2018 Legislative Session.

-Clark Goldenrod

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New report finds Medicaid reporting requirements are a raw deal for workers

Many working adults are at risk of losing their health care under new Medicaid work reporting requirement proposals, according to a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The report examines the work documentation requirement rule that will be implemented in Kentucky this year, which requires non-disabled adults on Medicaid to document 80 hours of work, volunteering, or job training each month in order to receive health care. If people are unable to provide the required documentation, they will lose their health coverage.

The report found that 46 percent of lowmedicaid-and-workers-48-percent-t-income workers who would be impacted by Kentucky’s new rules would be at risk of losing their health care for one or more months. Even among people who work substantial hours over the course of the year (about 80 hours per month on average), 25 percent would be at risk of losing their health care for one or more months because they would be unable to meet the requirements every single month.

Why is this? Because many of these people work in jobs that have high levels of instability, such as in food service, retail, home health care, or construction. Jobs in these industries frequently have volatile hours or inconsistent scheduling, and no guarantee workers will get to work a consistent number of hours each week. Workers in these types of jobs often don’t have sick time or much say in their work schedules, making it more likely they will lose their jobs if they need to take time to recover from illness, because of gaps in child care, or to deal with a family emergency. Many hardworking people may not be able to meet the 80-hour monthly work requirement through no fault of their own.

While many of the new work rules being implemented, including Kentucky’s, allow workers to fulfill the 80-hour requirement through volunteering or participating in job search programs, this doesn’t solve the problem for many people who are already working. Workers without much control over their schedules or who have to be available to work “on call” will have a difficult time lining up a volunteer position or slot in a job training program on short notice. So while the flexibility is laudable, it does not address the underlying challenges that many low-wage workers face in today’s labor market.

While proponents argue that these proposals will create greater incentives to work and will increase labor force participation, these new rules may actually impede people’s ability to work. Disruptions in health care can have serious consequences for people’s health. People working at low wages have above average rates of chronic health conditions. Not being able to see a doctor or treat an illness may exacerbate health issues further, which in turn make it more difficult to work.

Work documentation rules will likely lead to a vicious cycle: People with health conditions lose their jobs due to illness and then lose their health care, making it even more difficult to get healthy enough to find a new job.

Minnesota is currently considering a proposal that would impose work documentation requirements similar to Kentucky’s. The Center’s report demonstrates how just one of the many unintended consequences of work rules for Medical Assistance (Minnesota’s Medicaid) will not improve the health of Minnesotans and their families, or address barriers to success in the workforce. Instead, it’s clear that Minnesota workers will get a raw deal if reporting requirements are implemented in our state.

-Sarah Orange

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Tip penalty proposal in Minnesota House threatens economic security

The economic security of workers who receive hourly wages and tips in Minnesota is threatened by House File 4061, which was the subject of a hearing in the House Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee earlier this week.

Minnesota is one of seven states that ensures that workers who receive tips earn the same minimum wage as most other workers. The minimum wage for large employers is currently $9.65 per hour and, importantly, increases with inflation each year to help keep up with the cost of living.

House File 4061 would set a separate, lower minimum wage for workers, such as restaurant servers, who receive about $4.00 per hour or more in tips on average in a work week. The minimum wage for these workers would be frozen at the current minimum wage, and would not increase with inflation in future years. This policy is bad news for a few reasons:

  • While the wages for other low-wage workers would increase each year to help keep up with the cost of basic necessities like child care, groceries, and rent, workers receiving tips would be stuck earning 2018-level wages. And the gap between what tipped workers earn and what it takes to make ends meet would grow larger over time.
  • A substantial number of Minnesotans work in tipped positions at some point, and could be harmed by this proposal. According to the JOBS NOW coalition, openings for food preparation and serving jobs are up by 200 percent compared to four years ago.
  • This bill would make it very hard for workers to keep track of how much they should actually be paid by their employers, making workers more susceptible to wage theft. Since earnings could vary weekly between the inflation-adjusted minimum wage and the tip penalty wage, workers who receive tips right around $4 an hour on average would need to diligently track their tips and scrutinize their paychecks to make sure they’re being paid correctly. At the same time, it would also add a layer of complexity for employers to ensure they’re conforming to the law and counting tips and wages accurately.

The minimum wage sets a wage floor, and for tipped workers it provides a certain level of stability. This bill would erode the progress Minnesota workers made in 2014 when policymakers passed a long overdue raise to the state’s minimum wage. That boost to the state’s minimum wage is bringing more than 300,000 Minnesotans closer to economic security, and supports workers who are most often left behind in the state’s economy, including workers of color and women.

But House File 4061 would undo some of this important work. Policymakers should support Minnesota workers and promote economic security, not pass legislation that suppresses wages.

-Clark Goldenrod

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April Economic Update shows revenues on track

The recently released April Revenue and Economic Update gave us good news about the state’s economic and budget landscape. The quarterly report from Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) showed that the most recent state revenues have come in on track, and that the national economy is expected to grow at about the same rate as predicted earlier this year.

Some of the top takeaways from the Update include:

1. State revenues are coming in on track with projections. The state’s revenues for February and March came in $6 million above projections; that’s 0.2 percent more than projected in the state’s February 2018 Economic Forecast. The slight increase is primarily due to higher income and sales taxes received. The Update notes that the state will have a fuller picture of total tax year 2017 income tax payments later in April.

2. Economic growth is expected to be roughly on track with the February forecast. The national economic forecasters continue to predict 2.7 percent national GDP growth for 2018. In 2019, growth is projected to be higher than earlier anticipated at 2.9 percent, but then is expected to taper off to 1.7 percent by 2021.

april-economic-update-gdp

3. National unemployment rate expected to remain low, with strong consumer spending expected. Nationally, unemployment has been holding steady at 4.1 percent. That is the lowest it’s been in 17 years. Unemployment is expected to drop to 3.6 percent in 2019, roughly what the February forecast projected.

4. Forecasters are fairly confident in their projectionsThe forecasters assign a 65 percent chance that their baseline forecast is correct. They also give a 20 percent chance for a more pessimistic scenario and assign a 15 percent probability to a more optimistic scenario.

This new update tells us that not much has changed since the February forecast. However, there’s still need for caution this legislative session. As we’ve written before, there’s still considerable uncertainty around the economy and federal funding.

This is the last quarterly revenue update that policymakers will get before the legislative session ends in May. As they work toward the tax and budget decisions they will enact this year, they should be mindful of the considerable uncertainty of these times, and seek to strengthen the state’s ability to sustain support for our schools, families, and communities.

-Clark Goldenrod

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Proposed constitutional amendment would undermine general fund resources and underfund transportation

Many of Minnesota’s priorities – from K-12 education, to financial aid for college students, to broadband access – are paid for through the state’s general fund. However, a bill moving through the Senate would threaten the state’s ability to meet Minnesotans’ needs now and in the future.

Senate File 3837 proposes a constitutional amendment to permanently dedicate certain general fund revenues toward the state’s transportation fund without replacing them with additional revenues. This reduces the amount available to fund other areas of the budget. Transportation is largely funded through dedicated sources, such as the gas tax. As a result, transportation has not traditionally competed with investments like schools, nursing homes, and broadband for the same funding.

Voters would decide during the 2018 general election whether to accept this change. This proposal is a bad idea for three big reasons:

  1. Senate File 3837 would take money out of the state’s general fund, leaving fewer resources for other priorities. The general fund is the state’s largest and most flexible fund; every two years state policymakers determine how to use it to best meet Minnesota’s current needs and invest in the future when they pass the state budget. By permanently taking away general fund dollars, this bill would make it harder to pay for other important priorities. A preliminary estimate shows that Senate File 3837 would take about $200 million annually out of the general fund starting in FY 2020. That’s roughly what it takes to cover the state’s total general fund investment in Jobs, Economic Development, Housing, and Commerce. It’s important to fund our state’s transportation needs, but permanently shifting funding away from other areas of the budget isn’t the right path.
  2. Speaking of funding state transportation needs, this bill would do little to actually fill the need for better transportation funding. In 2012, the Transportation Finance Advisory Committee determined that Minnesota needs $21 billion over 20 years just to maintain the current status of the state’s transportation system. This proposal doesn’t do that, nor does it get us close to funding a world class transportation and transit system needed for a strong economic future.
  3. Senate File 3837 locks down today’s budget choices and limits our ability to address tomorrow’s needs. By putting this language into our state’s constitution, it will tie future policymakers’ hands when they need to adapt to new funding priorities and needs. Reversing this decision and restoring these dollars to our state’s general fund would involve yet another constitutional amendment and ballot question. This bill would needlessly make it more difficult to fund Minnesotans’ priorities like education, health care, economic development, and the environment.

-Clark Goldenrod

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Families with children could pay higher taxes under tax conformity

The complex set of tax changes in the recent federal tax bill creates a set of challenging decisions for states like Minnesota. Because Minnesota’s state income and corporate taxes use federal tax law as their starting points, when federal laws change, Minnesota policymakers need to decide whether to incorporate those changes into our tax system.

As they decide how to respond to the federal tax law, Minnesota policymakers should be guided by principles including fairness and sustainability of the tax system. One element of fairness that is particularly at play this year is how much the tax code takes family size into account. Our current tax system recognizes that a household’s basic expenses grow with each additional family member, and takes that into account when determining how much of a household’s income is taxable. But conforming to the federal tax law could change that.

If Minnesota adopted all of the federal changes that effect our state income taxes, that would raise an estimated $121 million in FY 2019 and more than $200 million per year after that. Tax increases on some Minnesotans would pay for tax cuts for others. Among those likely to face tax increases under conformity are families with children or other dependents.

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy modeled the effect in Minnesota of conforming to the federal tax bill’s increased standard deduction, the elimination of personal and dependent exemptions, and changes to itemized deductions. They estimate that 70 percent of families with dependents would see a tax increase as a result of conforming to these provisions, including 53 percent of families with one dependent and 84 percent of families with two dependents.

A primary cause is the federal tax law’s elimination of personal and dependent exemptions. For many families with dependents, the new larger standard deduction is not enough to make up for the lost dependent exemptions. These families will have higher taxable incomes, and likely a state tax increase under conformity. (Some households taking itemized deductions could also see tax increases from the elimination of exemptions, but more factors come into play in determining how they fare under conformity.)

Fortunately, there are policy choices to prevent families with dependents paying more to fund tax cuts for others. One approach is to not conform to the federal changes in deductions and exemptions that causes it. This is what Governor Mark Dayton proposes in his tax plan. The plan would keep the value of exemptions, the standard deduction, and itemized deductions the same as before the federal tax law passed. In addition, his plan would cut taxes on most Minnesotans through a new per-person tax credit and expansion of the Working Family Credit.

A second approach is to largely conform to those federal changes, but also enact targeted policies to offset the impact. This could be creating a state Child Tax Credit, a state dependent exemption, or a combination of both. Legislation taking this approach includes Senate File 2982 and House File 2942.

However, these policies need to be big enough to fully offset the lost exemptions in order for low- and middle-income families with dependents to avoid tax increases. And it is hard to do that if policymakers also try to enact broad income tax rate reductions, as Idaho recently found out.

As the Tax Policy Center’s Richard Auxier writes, Idaho provides a cautionary tale. Idaho is in a somewhat similar situation to Minnesota in that it also has a tax system that incorporates the value of federal deductions and exemptions. Idaho policymakers were told that conforming to the federal tax law would raise an estimated $100 million. They responded earlier this month by passing a $130 Child Tax Credit, but also cutting income and corporate tax rates.

But the Child Tax Credit was too small and left some Idaho families with children with tax increases, even when combined with the income tax rate reductions. For example, a married couple with three children earning $50,000 would pay nearly $200 more under this legislation. Those tax increases paid for tax cuts for others. Idaho policymakers went back to the drawing board, and passed additional legislation to expand the Child Tax Credit to $205. But that’s still short of the $287 that would be needed to fully offset the loss of personal exemptions for all Idaho families.

As Minnesota policymakers respond to the federal tax bill, they would be wise to remember Auxier’s caution: “The new money is a windfall only if you ignore that someone is paying for it with higher taxes. And that someone mostly will be low- and middle-income families.”

-Nan Madden

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Governor Dayton’s proposed supplemental budget makes investments in education, health and human services, economic development, saves for the future

Governor Mark Dayton released his FY 2018-19 supplemental budget proposal today, focused on making strategic investments to support Minnesota’s economic success, prioritizing working Minnesotans in responding to the federal tax bill, and leaving some of the state’s projected surplus unspent “to cushion against risk.”

The supplemental budget describes Dayton’s proposed changes to the two-year state budget passed last year. Dayton proposes $227 million in net additional general fund spending and $20 million in net revenue increases in FY 2018-19, leaving $206 million of the projected surplus unspent, or “on the bottom line.”

dayton-supplemental-budget-table-2018

Here’s our first look:

Education

Dayton’s largest new investments are for the education of Minnesotans at all ages. He recommends $21 million in FY 2019 for the Safe and Secure Schools Act to improve the security of students through building improvements and student supports. He also includes an additional $17 million in FY 2019 for special education. Dayton also proposes $57 million in FY 2020-21 to expand access to pre-kindergarten.

Dayton proposes improvements for Minnesotans pursuing higher education as well. He includes $10 million each to Minnesota State and the University of Minnesota to keep the cost of tuition down. He also includes an important improvement to financial aid. Minnesota Dreamers – young people who came to the country as children and do not have legal status – are ineligible to receive federal Pell Grants. However, the State Grant formula currently calculates financial aid assuming students receive this federal grant, meaning that Dreamers receive much less aid than they need to afford college. The proposal would increase the grant award for these students, making college education more in reach for all Minnesota’s young people.

Health and Human Services

Governor Dayton proposes an additional $2.5 million in FY 2019 and $15 million in FY 2020-21 in child care. These investments are intended to avoid disruptions in child care for families and better prepare children for school. These improvements are essential to making sure parents can join the workforce and kids can grow in stable and nurturing environments.

Dayton also maintains an essential funding source for affordable health care by repealing the sunset of the provider tax. The provider tax provides the majority of the revenues for the Health Care Access Fund but is currently set to expire on December 31, 2019. By ensuring this revenue continues for MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance, Dayton is taking an important step to ensure low- and moderate-income Minnesotans can continue to get the health care they need.

Affordable health care is also expanded through the MinnesotaCare buy-in option, which would allow Minnesotans who don’t already qualify for MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance to purchase health insurance through MinnesotaCare. After initial set-up costs of about $171 million, individual premiums are projected to sustain the program into the future.

Other important funding proposals include addressing opioid treatment and addiction, and strengthening consumer protections for seniors and other people living in care facilities.

Taxes

One the major challenges in this legislative session is responding to the recent federal tax bill. As in his past tax proposals, Governor Dayton prioritizes everyday Minnesotans and maintaining the revenues needed to fund essential services.

Dayton’s tax plan would protect seniors, people with disabilities, and families with dependents from seeing a cut in their Property Tax Refunds, which would occur from conforming to the federal tax code.

In addition, Governor Dayton continues his commitment to Minnesota workers and their families through an expansion of the state’s Working Family Credit, helping working families meet their basic needs and get children off to a stronger start. This proposal is similar to the expansions Dayton has proposed in the past, and would provide an average $160 tax cut for 329,000 Minnesota workers and families.

Simply conforming to all the federal tax changes that impact the state is estimated to raise $459 million in individual and corporate taxes in FY 2019 and more in future years. Preliminary analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that about one-third of Minnesota taxfiling households would see a tax increase if Minnesota conformed to the major income tax changes.

Instead, Dayton proposes to keep Minnesota’s tax code as it was before the recent federal changes. It would prevent tax increases by allowing Minnesota families the same standard deductions and personal exemptions as before, and those who itemize would continue to be able to take the same deductions, such as for charitable giving and property taxes. In addition, it creates a new $60 per-person tax credit. Budget documents estimate that more than 1.9 million Minnesota families would receive an average tax cut of $117.

In addition, Dayton’s budget plan would reverse three tax cuts enacted in last year’s tax bill: on tobacco products, the commercial/industrial state property tax, and the estate tax.

Jobs and Economic Development

Governor Dayton continues to prioritize expanding broadband service in underserved areas so that Minnesota’s economic success reaches into every corner of the state. He proposes adding $30 million in additional one-time funding for grants that are expected to expand access to broadband for thousands of Minnesotans.

Preparing for Uncertain Future

The Governor leaves a significant portion of the projected surpluses for FY 2018-19 and FY 2020-21 on the bottom line – $206 million in this biennium and $182 million in the next. The state’s current projected budget surpluses are certainly good news, but they don’t guarantee a positive economic and budget outlook into the future. Forecasters had the tough job of predicting how people and businesses would response to the sweeping federal tax bill. Additionally, our state’s projected surplus could swiftly be cancelled out if federal policymakers follow through with any of several proposals to deeply cut federal funding to the state.

Considering increased uncertainty from federal policy changes, it is crucial for policymakers to set Minnesota up for success. Leaving a significant portion of projected surpluses on the bottom line while making targeted investments to support Minnesotans is a good way to do that.

-Clark Goldenrod, Sarah Orange, Nan Madden

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