By Jason Sethre
Fillmore County Journal
There’s a reason this saying exists.
That’s because there is no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody always has to pay for it. Always.
Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan signed off on a program that provides free breakfast and lunch for all students attending Minnesota schools. This program, which started in the fall of 2023, provides meals to students at a cost of $800 million over four years.
I have no problem with providing breakfast, snacks, and lunch to children as we have for many years with the free and reduced meals program. Children should not grow up in an environment in which they cannot thrive due to a lack of nutrition. So, I fully support providing free or reduced meals to students as we have done so in the past. And, many schools have their own programs in addition to state-funded programs, supported by local organizations and individuals within each community.
Here’s where I have a problem with providing free meals for ALL students.
There are families that can afford to pay for breakfast and lunch for their children, and they have been doing so for years prior to the introduction of a program like this. We have been paying for our children’s meals, and we’ve been fine with it since our children started attending school.
I have spoken with many parents about this issue, and they feel the same way.
We have millionaires who now have their children receiving free meals at school, and they used to pay for them. We have wealthy professionals such as doctors and lawyers who can afford to pay for meals for their children. Many families were paying for meals for their children prior to the introduction of this program.
According to a recent story produced by KSTP-TV on January 10, 2024, the free school lunch program is over budget. As stated in the article, “With 31% more meals being served than anticipated when the state budget was created, the program is projected to be $176 million over budget for the next four years.” With inflation, I guarantee that dollar amount will only increase.
Our state leadership continues to introduce programs that are unsustainable without further taxation. Somebody at the top isn’t very good at math, and it shows.
Whenever new government programs are introduced, you can be rest assured that every bit of those budgeted dollars are spent in order to make sure they keep their budgeted dollars at that level the following year. If the budgeted dollars are not spent, there’s the risk of a reduced budget.
And, with every new government program, more jobs are added to manage that program. Our government just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
As reported on the Pioneer Press website on May 14, 2023, in an article titled “Minnesota Democrats plan to grow state government to historic size,” Christopher Magan presented how this was going to play out. “The Minnesota Legislature is just days away from enacting a historic transformation of state government, adding $20 billion in spending to the next two-year budget to fund an unprecedented amount of new and expanded programs and services. That broad expansion will require hundreds, if not more than a thousand, new state employees as well as ongoing costs that will entail billions in new tax revenues to support it. The next state budget is expected to hit $72 billion, up 38 percent from the current $52 billion two-year spending plan that expires in June.”
Bigger government increases our taxes.
Based on a March 30, 2023, National Public Radio article titled “These are the states with the highest and lowest tax burdens,” Minnesota ranked eighth, only out-taxed by the states of New York, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland (in that order). This was based on a combination of property tax, income tax, and sales tax that people paid. Out of 50 states, Minnesota made the top 10 list for highest tax burdens. As taxpayers, we Minnesotans should be concerned about how our state is managing our money.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO), Minnesota’s recent expenditure totals (general fund spending/total spending, including federal transfers) were as follows:
• FY 2023: $27.5 billion/$58.0 billion
• FY 2022: $24.7 billion/$53.8 billion
• FY 2021: $23.6 billion/$48.4 billion
• FY 2020: $23.8 billion/$43.0 billion
• FY 2019: $23.1 billion/$40.8 billion
We saw a 19% increase over five years, which is 3.8% on average per year. With federal transfers, that number jumped by 42% over a five year period, from $40.8 billion to $58 billion.
Whether we are talking about state or federal dollars, these are all of our tax dollars. The more these billions stack up, the more we will be taxed on our property, income, and items purchased. If we keep this up, our children and grandchildren will be looking at a tsunami of taxation.
Like I said earlier, I have no problem with providing free meals to children eligible for the program. I support free or reduced lunches as presented in the past. But, I know for our family, nobody ever asked us if we wanted to commit our tax dollars to something we were already spending money on for our family. And, we are not the only ones who share this opinion.
It’s as if we don’t have a voice anymore in the State of Minnesota. There’s a growing disconnect between our state leadership and the people – especially the rural populations.
And, based on these decisions made at the top, our state leadership seems to be operating with an open checkbook. I guess it’s always easy to spend other people’s money.