The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

February 28, 2014

State surplus estimate to feed session appetites

ST. PAUL (AP) — Minnesota's projected budget surplus swelled Friday to $1.233 billion, giving lawmakers more leeway to pursue tax cuts and increased spending this session.

State finance officials released the updated outlook that showed the surplus is $408 million higher than what was projected a few months ago. That report showed $825 million was left after the state paid off its final IOUs to schools that amassed during deficit times.

The forecast represents an estimate of current and future tax collections compared with spending commitments through June 2015. It's the last forecast that will be provided before November's election and will guide session decisions.

More details about the state economic conditions were to be discussed at a news conference later Friday, but officials with the Minnesota Management and Budget office said it comes from a combination of stronger revenue and lower-than-anticipated spending.

Lawmakers were also planning to weigh in Friday, but the stampede to dish out the money is already underway. The House could vote as soon as Thursday on a tax-cut plan of more than $500 million, which would free businesses from new sales taxes imposed just last spring and give income tax filers more deductions and exemptions. Some of the cuts would be retroactive, meaning filers could claim them when submitting their returns this spring.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has joined in the call for swift action on a tax relief package.

In the Senate, whose members aren't up for election this year, leaders are taking a go-slow approach. The top Democrats haven't committed to significant tax cuts and favor putting at least some of the surplus into a rainy-day account.

There is also talk of using extra dollars to pay cash for construction projects the state would otherwise sell bonds to fund. And special interests, ranging from caregivers for the elderly to advocates for early childhood education programs, also have eyes on the pot of money.

Lawmakers are allowed to remain in session until May 19, but a short to-do list this year could mean an earlier break for the campaign trail.

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