House GOP wants two-thirds of surplus for tax plan, roads

Minnesota House Republican leaders on Thursday proposed using most of the surplus to make changes to the state tax code and pay for road and bridge construction projects.

The combined $208 million — about half earmarked for each of those two areas — would consume much of the $329 million projected budget surplus.

Lawmakers are making adjustments to the budget this year after setting a two-year framework last year. And in an election year, they’re concentrating on popular programs or the most-pressing needs.

The blueprint is only the first step. In coming weeks, House members will designate the money with more specifics. The Senate, also controlled by Republicans, will probably pass a different package. Those two proposals will have to be melded and negotiated with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton before anything is final.

Under the House GOP plan, there would also be an additional $30 million put toward public schools with an emphasis on safety improvements. A $10 million boost in social services spending would head off a potential cut in care programs for the disabled. And $15 million would be devoted to bringing high-speed internet to more parts of the state.

There is a set-aside for shoring up gaps in elder care oversight and in dealing with worrisome trends in opioid use, but it’s not clear precisely how much would be directed to either.

One other key figure is the House Republican cap on borrowing for general construction projects. Their proposal would allow the sale of about $800 million in bonds, which is about half the size of what Dayton recommended. Of that, $25 million would be for school upgrades to further promote safer campuses.

The plan calls for a $7 million reduction in state agency operations, without spelling out where the savings would be achieved.

In a statement, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said the focus on tax cuts and transportation fit with his caucus’s commitment to voters.

“These 2018 budget adjustments continue our strong commitment to Minnesota families through tax relief, roads and bridges, and school safety,” Daudt said.

House Republicans would also pull money into the state’s rainy-day reserve. That $75 million would come from unspent funds from a health premium buydown approved last year.