MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota’s huge budget surplus for 2016 has state lawmakers scrambling to figure out what to do with it.

A large part of the surplus will go to a budget reserve, and the rest of it will likely go to be a combination of tax cuts and spending.

But unlike surpluses in 1999 – 2001, Minnesota Democratic Governor Mark Dayton says Minnesota taxpayers will likely not get a rebate check.

“Per capita, you’re talking about less than $20 dollars a month,” Dayton said.

He says it is far more productive to spend the surplus on schools, or road and bridge repair.

Dayton says a one-time rebate check to taxpayers is not a responsible way to manage government, estimating it would average about $240 per family — and disappear like weekend takeout food.

“We had a debate (in the office) whether that’s enough to buy a pizza for a family in one month or not,” Dayton said. “It depends on the size of the family and the size of the appetites.”

But not that long ago, millions of Minnesotans got a tax rebate from the state, some of them hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Jesse Ventura won the Minnesota governor’s office as an independent in part by promising to give surplus money back to taxpayers, and he did. There were three-straight years of tax rebates that came to be known as “Jesse checks.”

“I want to send the money in the bank, the $500 million that is sitting there currently today, back to the taxpayers this summer,” Ventura said in 2000.

The average “Jesse check” in 1999 was $650. In 2000, it was $317. And in 2001, it was $396.

Along with rebates, the 1999 – 2001 legislatures permanently cut taxes, but not spending.

Dayton said Friday that those rebates significantly hurt the state’s financial stability.

“What followed was a decade of budget deficits and massive borrowing, shifts and gimmicks to paper over them,” Dayton said.

The Minnesota legislature doesn’t meet again until March of 2016, so no final decisions will be made for some time.

Here are some of the sources we used for this Reality Check:

Minnesota Senate: Fiscal Analysis Reports By Year, Including Details of Sales Tax Rebates 1999-2001

Minnesota Management & Budget 2016-17 Budget Forecast

Pat Kessler

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