OPINION-EDITORIAL: Budget and tax committees require complex, careful decisions weighed against statewide impacts
When I first ran for state representative in 2009, I felt a better job could be done with our state's budget, especially to ensure government lives within its means, and that we could also do a better job in ensuring fairness in our state's tax system.
Five years ago, I was appointed to a leadership role as ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee, which considers state and local tax issues. I've worked to keep our taxes low, keep them fair, help to decide which tax incentives would bring jobs and economic development to our state and provide a return on our investment, and to prevent major tax shifts.
Taxes are how government pays for services it provides to our citizens. But revenue is only one part of our state operating budget. Spending is the other part.
This year, I was appointed to House Appropriations Committee, which makes the spending decisions. It's a powerful position to be serving with 32 other members, Republicans and Democrats, who decide how to spend the state's tax dollars. This committee helps write the state budget. With a budget likely to surpass $40 billion, it's been one of the most challenging positions of my legislative service.
With the exception of most transportation issues, every bill that would spend your tax dollars must be considered by the House Appropriations Committee. During this session, nearly 230 House bills have been referred to this committee. Senate bills are still to follow.
The Appropriations Committee meets longer and later than any other legislative committee to individually consider these measures. Hundreds of people come to testify, many with tears in their eyes, pleading for more tax money to be spent for their programs or begging for them not to be cut or eliminated. We have to weigh the emotions with the realities of what can be reasonably afforded. We also make decisions of investment — appropriating money on programs that would actually bring more money than we spend back to the state.
When budgeting at home, you generally know how much money you have, you prioritize your needs and keep careful track of your spending. In the Appropriations Committee, it is more complex, especially when debating with other legislators the hundreds of spending bills that need a decision. It's frustrating, because the committee itself does not prioritize the bills. I would prefer we individually “grade” the bills in an order of spending priority. Bills receiving an “A” would be important to receive money and conform to the most important priorities of government, such as education, public safety, mental health and protecting the most vulnerable. Other bills would receive lower grades and lesser priority for spending. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way, so it's difficult to track total spending.
Personally, I write a note to myself on every bill that comes through the committee. I write the dollar amount it would cost per biennium for the next six years. And then I mark a “yes,” if I feel money should be appropriated for the bill, or “no” if we shouldn't spend your dollars. In every vote, I consider how it will help or impact you, your neighbors, our communities and our state.
Serving on both the Finance and Appropriations committees provides me with a unique perspective. From what we ask you to provide to state government from your hard-earned paycheck to what we return to you in the form of spending for education, public safety and social services, I take every vote seriously on these committees to ensure a better budget and greater accountability with your tax dollars.
Editor's note: Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, represents the 16th Legislative District and serves on the House Appropriations and Finance committees, and the House Technology and Economic Development Committee.