The new economic forecast issued by Minnesota Management and Budget indicates our bottom line is stronger than it has been since before the Great Recession.Projections through 2017 add up to a positive balance. This is highlighted by a $295 million balance in 2012-13 and a $782 million balance in 2016-17. There is a $627 shortfall in 2014-15, but even that has been reduced by $463 million since the last forecast in November. The bottom line is the budget decisions we made in 2011-12 continue to produce results. This is the fourth consecutive forecast to reveal more revenue than previously anticipated. We have generated $2.8 billion above projections since November of 2011. The effects are good news for Minnesota taxpayers as we work to fully recover from the recession and put ourselves on a strong course for the future. We will put $290 million of the latest surplus toward paying off delayed K-12 funding. The entire K-12 shift was paid off with previous surplus revenue and now we have made significant repayments on K-12 debt enacted under the previous Democrat majorities and Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The other $5 million in surplus funds will be placed in state reserves, bringing that balance to $694 million. Our positive growth is further evidence we can balance our budget without raising taxes. Revenue is growing by 3 percent and no shortfall would exist if we simply stay within those limits. The governor’s $3.7 billion in proposed tax increases is largely driven by his desire to hike spending by 7.6 percent. On another note, legislation to create a health insurance exchange in Minnesota is moving through the Legislature. Many legislators have strong concerns over this bill and are working to address the fact the bill fails to assure lower health care costs for individuals, lower costs throughout the health care system, an expansion of coverage for Minnesotans, or improved quality of health care – even though the exchange would cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars just to build and operate. In fact, the exchange would add a layer of taxes (3.5 percent). Another concern is a lack of oversight. This program would be controlled by a new seven-member, politically appointed “super agency” which would have access to spend taxpayer dollars as it sees fit. There also are serious data privacy issues to consider, with patient information made available to the federal government. We still have many questions regarding this program. Legislators ask for details and far too often the answer is, “I don’t know.” That is quite unsettling to have so many unknowns in such a mammoth overhaul. It feels like the proposed health insurance exchange is bound to fail and a government takeover would be our ultimate destination. This is a slippery slope. Health insurance is crucial to our citizens; we better take time and do things right if we are going to make changes. Minnesota probably has the nation’s best health care system, including relatively low premiums and among the nation’s fewest percent of uninsured citizens. We cannot lose sight of that.