Legislature hears grand plan for returning budget surplus

Brian Close

One of the bills introduced in the state Legislature this year could give future University freshmen a huge 18th birthday present.
Dubbed “Baby Grand,” the bill would mandate that the government put $1,000 in an account for every newborn child to help them pay for college expenses, purchase a house or cover health care costs if they have a disability. The state Board of Investment would administer the funds and add $100 for each of the child’s first 10 birthdays.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, who introduced the bill in the Senate, said her intention is to give back some of the surplus to Minnesota’s children.
“The idea was to invest a little money and let it grow, and provide it to a child in (a way) that would help them have assets in the future,” she said.
Berglin said another benefit would be to increase the number of workers in the state by providing incentives to families coming to the state, as well as increasing abilities of those entering the work force.
“In the future, one of the problems we are going to face is not having enough people for our workplace,” she said.
Rep. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said she generally prefers using extra money for tax relief. However, she introduced the bill to promote discussion and debate in the “marketplace of ideas.”
“We have any number of proposals that offer incentives and subsidies to families with children,” she said. “This bill is a competitive one.”
Berglin said the state already has various programs, such as state grants, that give money to students. She said the bill would allow the money in each child’s account to grow to about $13,000 by his or her 18th birthday, calculated with current interest rates.
She estimated the program’s cost at about $63 million each year, at current birth rates. That is less, she said, than other proposals which would offer tax credits to parents of dependent children.
“There are many ways to give money back to people. Just getting an instant check in the mail isn’t the only way,” she said.
But Andy Kirn, director of Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility, criticized the proposal, saying it treats the government like a benevolent grandparent who will hand out money on birthdays.
Calling the proposal “just plain goofy,” Kirn added that it signifies a creep towards socialism, where the citizens look to the state to meet their needs.
“Frankly, it’s money that should be left in the hands of parents to take care of their own children,” he said.
Both Berglin and Kirn said the bill is not likely to be heard in committee. That would make passage impossible. But if it does move forward, Kirn said he would be present.
“I don’t think any committee is going to hear this bill,” he said, “but if it did, I would love to testify.”