Hopkins' state legislators are generally pleased with yesterday’s announcement that Minnesota has a an $876 million surplus—but they caution that the money still does not completely address the overall debt, which required the state to delay payments to local school districts and tap into the tobacco money awarded to the state a decade ago.
“Keep in mind that technically there really isn’t a surplus,” said Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-District 44A)
Simon said he generally favors either putting the surplus in the budget reserve fund—the so-called “rainy day” account where the money is legally obligated to go—or starting to pay the local school districts in the state the money technically owed them from the last legislative session because of funding shifts.
In the 2011 legislative session, lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton faced a $5 billion deficit. The regular session ended with no agreement between the Republican controlled legislature and the governor, a Democrat. A 20-day shutdown of most state government services followed. When the two sides agreed to come back and solve the matter, they ended up delaying by $1.4 billion payments to local school districts and also tapped into the tobacco fund for $757 million, which will need to be paid back.
“It makes no sense, really, to call it a surplus” said Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-District 44) “As of now, we don’t know going into the next fiscal year how much of a hole we will be in. Therefore, I am in favor of putting it in the reserve fund.”
Unless the Legislature changes the law, none of the money would go toward paying back schools the $2 billion they are owed. John Schultz, superintendent of , said he would support any measures that give school districts extra revenue. But he added that he also "respects the place where the state is now"—although lawmakers must keep in mind that they still have a responsibility for education.