From the Left Hand Corner: Don't buy votes with state surplus

A week or so ago state Republican Party chair Keith Downey went to the State Office Building in St. Paul and held a press conference. No legislators who office in that building were present.

A week or so ago state Republican Party chair Keith Downey went to the State Office Building in St. Paul and held a press conference. No legislators who office in that building were present.

Downey made quite a splash by announcing that our Legislature (and governor) should use up all of our projected $1.9 billion state surplus by sending out checks for $350 to every Minnesotan (whether they need it or not).

Downey had just spent $150,000 of Republican Party money that they apparently don't have (in debt over a million). That money was used to buy a statewide television ad featuring Downey in a full length pose advocating this generous giveaway.

He indicated that if legislators simply accepted and adopted his proposal, we could all assume that in short time we'd all have a $350 "check in the mail."

Is it any coincidence that Mr. Downey is up for re-election as state Republican Party chair in a couple weeks, and that he gained office promising to get his party out of debt, which he hasn't done? Mr. Downey doesn't appear to be so interested in what his $350 will do for the state of Minnesota, as what his proposal will do to enhance his own re-election.


According to him, at least, the ad has already attracted attention and has caused very conservative "no tax" elements of his party to contribute to its coffers. Downey appears to be using the gimmick to draw funds to the party and to enhance his candidacy for election.

He is already defending this foolish proposal, saying it is causing the more conservative members of his party to contribute more.

What is really ironic about the Downey proposal includes the time, the place and the fact that no Republican legislators were involved. Apparently, most them had no idea that Downey was going to do what he did until they saw the TV ad like the rest of us.

It is even more ironic that on the same day Downey made his grand pronouncement, Republican leaders who have respect and clout in the Legislature, such as Sen. Senjem and Rep. Dean, were making media announcements advocating usage of millions of those same surplus funds for projects they deemed important and of priority, such as education, mental health treatment and long-term care of the elderly.

It sort of looks like the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. It may also seem a fair time to say you can't have it both ways. You can't spend any surplus dollar (that you still don't have in hand) more than once.

Whether it is in a TV ad or at a press conference in a public building, it is very presumptuous for Republican Party chair Downey to tell us how all of the anticipated state surplus money ought to be disseminated. That is for the elected legislators and governor to do. It wasn't and isn't Chairman Downey's money to spend. It is not ours, mine or yours to spend or get back either.

It is money that was properly assessed as our respective shares of the cost of providing state government. Fortunately, this year economic times are on the upswing and more money is coming in than was anticipated when the Legislature set its taxes.

That doesn't mean they overtaxed us. The figures probably fit our then-economy accurately.


Our surplus situation is a very welcome change from the long period of repeated deficits caused by prior rebates and our failed "no new tax" years. Now, it is up to our Legislature to deal with this favorable situation in a responsible fashion.

There is a very long line of people, projects and proposals already standing in line and advocating long and loud.

We still have hungry children; we still have too many homeless; we still have too many without adequate healthcare, dental care and mental care. Most of our really young don't have good educational starting programs and our higher education is not moving forward fast enough.

Some of our bridges are truly falling down. Many intersections and roadways are downright dangerous, and thousands of miles are in sad states of disrepair.

So, there are a lot of more compelling needs to be met, rather than doling out arbitrary sums on a per capita basis just to gain favor for donations this year and votes next year.

Hopefully, better heads and better thinking will prevail in the Legislature and the rebate idea and temptation will be discarded.

Downey's present proposal is not a new idea. It has been done in the past and the results were negative. If I remember correctly, our own Gov. Perpich toyed with the idea several decades ago.

The worst example was when Gov. Ventura blasted out with it in his thankfully short regime. When I got my unasked for rebate check a la Ventura and the then Legislature, I donated it back to legislators who had the guts and good sense to vote against it.


We are in the fortunate position that our state government has some extra money to deal with this year. I agree that education and transportation should be considered top priority in considering what to spend and where.

Then, I think it would be good common sense, if there is still some extra money floating around, to sock some of it away for that inevitable rainy day. So when our projections and assessment come up short, we don't go through the orchestrations and shell games that were played to the serious detriment of our state and some of its most needy just a few years ago.

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