Last summer, with each passing day of the government shutdown, lawmakers faced increasing pressure to fill the state's multi-billion dollar budget gap with additional tax revenues. But the majority stood firm and pledged not to increase government spending more than the state was slated to take in during the next biennium.
Now, just seven months later, state lawmakers find themselves with a projected billion dollar budget surplus. You would think that, given the circumstances, our lawmakers would easily hold fast to their commitment that government should live within its means. But without a clear motive, two of our legislators have displayed a change of heart.
Recently Rep. Linda Runbeck and Rep. Carol McFarlane co-authored legislation that would legalize a new gambling activity and create a new tax on that activity.
Rep. Runbeck and Rep. McFarlane co-authored H.F. 2068 that would allow slot machines at Running Aces in Columbus and a South Metro location, Canterbury Park. It has been estimated that the new tax revenue from the slot machines could bring in over $100 million annually to state government.
Just a few months ago, both of these Republican lawmakers were part of the group chanting the mantra "Government should live within its means." They took the position that state government had to manage its budget with the revenue it received under the current tax structure. Even today, on her website Rep. Runbeck states "One of the principles I support is that government must live within the resources available. I am ready to be your advocate and your voice for smaller government, lower taxes, individual responsibility, free markets and property rights."
Now in 2012 both Rep. Runbeck and Rep. McFarlane appear to have a change of heart and believe that state government needs more money. They have proposed legalizing slot machines and taxing the revenue up to 40 percent in order to feed the state's voracious spending habit. Why the sudden shift in philosophy? Why are Rep. Runbeck and Rep. McFarlane supporting an increase in revenue for the government and backing away from their position that our state "government should live within its means?"
Why didn't they bring forward this legislation last year during the budget debate? If their goal is to increase revenue for government, why not allow slot machines in bars across the entire state?
One of the designated uses for the revenue in their bill that our legislators co-sponsored is to reduce the K-12 school payment delay. During last year's budget impasse Gov. Dayton proposed increasing the amount delayed in school aid payments from 30 percent to 40 percent. This means schools still receive state aid payments every month, but payments will be larger during the second half of the year. While their intention is well-meaning, with a near billion dollar surplus; why do they feel compelled to raise taxes?
If all the annual revenue from the new slot machines were to go to erase the delay in K-12 school aid payments, it would take over 20 years. If the goal is to erase the school aid payment delay, why would you propose an option that takes 20 years? Furthermore, if we are going to use gambling revenue to fund schools across the state, then wouldn't it make sense to place slot machines across the state which would raise even more tax revenue?
Taxing gamblers to speed up aid payments to our schools won't undo the borrowing and accounting shifts legislators used to balance the budget last session. I believe both Rep. Runbeck and Rep. McFarlane understand our state government has a spending problem not a revenue problem. Hopefully, both will re-think their position on gambling for schools and renew their commitment to create a government that lives within its means.
Phil Krinkie is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. You can contact him at email@example.com.