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Poll: Spend Some of the Surplus
By Michael Khoo
February 14, 2001
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A new poll shows most Minnesotans favor using part of the state's projected $3 billion surplus for new spending initiatives. The Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press survey finds schools among the top priorities. DFL lawmakers say the results support their call for more spending on K-12 and higher education, but GOP leaders and the Ventura administration say they'll continue to push for tax relief.

See complete results of the poll.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT LAST NOVEMBER of a projected $3 billion in surplus revenue over the next three years touched off a familiar ritual: Republicans calling for deep tax cuts and DFLers advocating a mix of tax relief and new spending initiatives. The poll shows 71 percent of Minnesotans favor at least some new investments.

Constance Svensson, 84, of Duluth is one of 625 poll respondents. She considers schools only one of many pressing needs.

"I say education, but then I'm also concerned about northeastern Minnesota right now. I think it's going to need some support up there. Bring in some more money spent to bring in more industries," she suggests.

Education, though, is the big winner in the survey. Roughly 40 percent of respondents list it as the state's most important issue, double the number who cite taxes or government spending. The poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-four percentage points.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe says the findings support what he's hearing from his own constituents in northwestern Minnesota.

"Minnesotans want a balanced budget. They want to make sure that we have some tax cuts, and that's right and just and we can do that, but make sure they're sustainable. But they also want some investments on education, transportation, taking care of the elderly," says Moe.

Moe and other DFLers may believe they have poll respondents on their side, but the other two branches of the tripartite government disagree.

Rep. Dave Bishop, R-Rochester, chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. He says in the end he expects a compromise that mixes tax cuts and new spending, but he says GOP leaders have good reason to favor tax relief.

"We think we should have an income tax cut because we've had 18 consecutive surpluses where the money that was projected should have, a good part of it, should have been left in the hands of the public. The general public ought to be able to keep the money that is not needed," says Bishop.

John Parrish, 37, of Prior Lake agrees.

"I don't see a need for increased spending. I just think the money that's given has to be used more appropriately," says Parrish.

Parrish is among the 27 percent of respondents who want the full surplus returned. That's what Gov. Jesse Ventura proposes, at least with regard to almost $1 billion in one-time money expected by mid-summer. But spokesman John Wodele says beyond that, Ventura is willing to fund some new investments, as long as overall growth remains close to the rate of inflation. Wodele says, therefore, the poll numbers don't indicate a rejection of the governor's plan.

Ventura has also proposed cuts in the income and property taxes to be balanced, in part, with an expansion of the sales tax to services. Respondents were evenly divided on that question: 45 percent in favor, 43 percent opposed. Wodele says to have almost half of Minnesotans supporting any sort of tax expansion this early in the debate is encouraging.

"Obviously, they are understanding what the governor's trying to do; understanding that in the end there will be a reduction, a net reduction, in the taxes that they pay, that the expansion of the tax doesn't necessarily mean they're going to be paying more in the end," according to Wodele.

Budget officials will release final revenue projections at the end of the month, and many lawmakers anticipate the surplus projection will drop, making major tax cuts and major spending proposals harder to wedge into a shrinking pie.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at