Local nonprofits, industry leaders discuss priorities for $17.6B surplus

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(ABC 6 News) – Minnesota State Management and Budget Tuesday morning announced their 2024-2025 budget forecast coming in at a stunning $17.6 billion. Many different groups and state leaders are already indicating what they’d like to see done with that money.

After failing to push through his so-called “Walz checks” last session, Governor Tim Walz is already calling for part of the surplus to be sent directly back to Minnesotans — saying, in part:

“The case for sending money back to Minnesotans to help with rising costs has never been stronger. Together, we have a golden opportunity to do that.”

In the meantime, several labor unions are also responding to Tuesday’s forecast.

The president of Education Minnesota Denise Specht is calling the surplus a chance to:

“Give students more time with their educators, healthy learning environments, and access to a sufficient number of professional educators of all kinds.”

The Laborers International Union of North America’s Minnesota chapter says the money should go to repair the state’s crumbling infrastructure, calling current infrastructure an increasing threat to the health and safety of people and the prosperity of the state.

After what some call a disappointing spending year last session, many industries saying they desperately need state funding. This includes groups like childcare and long-term care workers and affordable housing advocates.

When the Minnesota legislature adjourned in May without spending much of a $9.25 billion surplus, workers like Karin Swenson with Meadow Park Child Care were left struggling.

“Low wages, no benefits,” Swenson, the executive director, said of what she can offer her employees. “We’re doing this and we shouldn’t have to be a martyr. I’ve been here for 30 years and have very little retirement.”

RELATED: Minnesota projects massive $17.6 billion budget surplus

Now, Swenson sees a new opportunity in the forecasted $17.6 billion surplus.

She needs more employees. Her entire crew is working overtime while only making 14 to 17 dollars an hour. Childcare advocates are looking for expanded childcare assistance for families along with better wages and benefits for workers.

Affordable housing advocates are also weighing in.

According to a 2021 report by the Minnesota Housing Partnership, Southeast Minnesota renters are getting less income despite rent prices going up.

“Of all the state’s budget annually every year, less than one percent is spent on housing. And we think that is inadequate,” said Anne Mavity, the executive director of the Minnesota Housing Partnership.

Minnesota Housing Partnership is asking for $2 billion of the state’s budget to go toward building and maintaining affordable housing options.

These local agencies are asking for one-time spending and long-term investment. But some Minnesota Republicans maintain most of this money needs to go right back to taxpayers.

“We’ve just taken too much money from the taxpayers. We need to give it back to them,” said Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester).

Nelson does support certain tax credits to help struggling industries like child care.

“Targeted tax relief to middle-class Minnesotans, to affordable housing, to property tax relief,” she added.

The governor and the management and budget commissioner said Tuesday that inflation will have a significant impact on the overall surplus, adding that the number will look “quite different” once the 7.7% inflation rate is factored in.