Students divided on state sales

Joanna Dornfeld

Sales tax rebates have come and gone. But many students would rather have seen the $791.3 million surplus invested in education and other social programs.

“I guess I was glad to get a check in the mail, but if it meant that tuition would be significantly cheaper I’d go for that,” said Jonathan Lindberg, a freshman business major.

After a long session the Minnesota Legislature voted this summer to return the entire 1999 sales tax surplus in the form of a rebate based on taxpayers’ income.

It is difficult to approximate how much rebate money the average University student received. But dependents received on average about $38, said Carrie Resch, Department of Revenue media coordinator.

Though some students said they enjoyed the extra spending money, some felt the money could have been better spent. Many students struggle to pay the $660 tuition increase this year and wish the surplus had been put into education.

Geoff Ziezulewicz, a senior political science major, said he didn’t think his $80 check was impressive.

“I personally think it should have been used in a different way because $80 is not a lot of money,” he said. “People like having a little extra money, but there is so much that can be done with it.”

But Gov. Jesse Ventura, the biggest proponent of the sales tax rebate, and Minnesota state economist Tom Stinson warn spending one-time surplus money on ongoing programs can lead to future budget problems.

Ventura believes it is irresponsible to appropriate the funds because the surplus was one-time money and should be returned to the taxpayers.

“(Ventura) believes that it should and did all go back in the form of a rebate because he feels that it is bad fiscal management to give it to ongoing programs,” said John Wodele, Ventura’s spokesman. “One-time money is very difficult for spending.”

Stinson, also a University associate professor of applied economics, agreed.

“This program was designed to provide some additional fiscal discipline to keep us from a situation where our state budget was out of structural balance,” Stinson said.

Some students said they understand the difficulty legislators faced when deciding how to spend the surplus.

Although spending the money on higher education would help freshman Kristen Kellener and her family cover the cost of her tuition, she said she also knows there are Minnesotans not facing those costs who could use the rebate money in a different way.

But Fred Jacobs, director of graduate studies in taxation in the Carlson School of Management, said there are always programs and services seeking government funds.

“There are always needs that are unmet,” Jacobs said. “Resources are never able to meet all needs.”

Most economists say it is too soon to tell whether the rebate boosted the Minnnesota economy.

But Ventura has high hopes the rebate will give the economy a little shot in the arm, Wodele said.

“I think most economists will tell you at this level it is not an absolute, definite boost, but both psychologically and in actual revenue it can help the economy and make people think it does,” Wodele added.

 

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]