State budget surplus draws many suitors

Legislators recommend communities of color ‘make our voices heard’

Recently, Minnesota was found to have about a $1.9 billion budget surplus, setting off a scramble of groups and individuals from all parts of the state seeking their share of the bounty.

At least one study estimated that the Black communities in Minnesota contribute about a half billion in taxes a year. The question becomes, how much of the budget surplus should rightfully go back to the Black community and other communities of color?

To help inform communities of color, on March 14 Minnesota State Senators Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden joined with State Representative Rena Moran and Myron Frans, commissioner of the Department of Management and Budget, in a town hall discussion. The panel discussion, moderated by Al McFarlane of Insight News and simulcast on KMOJ radio and SPNN television, focused on the budget surplus and its importance to communities of color.

The legislators urged repeatedly that people of color make their voices heard and use those voices to “get engaged” in the debate and decisions about how the budget surplus will be used. After comments by each panel member, audience members took to the microphone to weigh in with their thoughts about what the surplus should be used for.

We were unable to speak with the legislators immediately following the discussion, but Sen. Hayden did provide us with additional comments later by email. Hayden’s comments are in full, below, separated by topic:

Where did the surplus come from?

“The surplus comes from the hard, honest work of the DFL legislature and governor in 2013 and 2014. Raising income taxes on the top two percent allowed Minnesota to escape a decade of budgeting ups and downs and find stability. By moving away from shifts and gimmicks, we were able to give Minnesotans the stability they deserve.”

What is at stake for communities of color, and why it is important for their voices to be heard?

“Despite the general prosperity and success that most of Minnesota enjoys, we are still home to some of the worst disparities in the country. People of color are less likely to graduate from high school, more likely to have bad health outcomes, and more likely to end up in jail. There is no reason for our community to lag behind while others prosper. We need to make our voices heard because we are our best advocates. We understand our community’s challenges and we are also the key to the solutions.”

How can people get engaged in the decision-making process?

“Being engaged is as simple as calling your elected officials and telling them what is important to you. Take the time to build relationships with them and learn the process. If there is a bill you support, let them know. If you have an idea for how to change things, let them know. We are elected to represent you and we can’t do that if we don’t hear from you.”

Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to ipeterson@spokesman-recorder.com.