Why does GOP want to protect the rich?Published 8:58am Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Column: Notes from Home
Minnesotans have reached the end of the highway: The budget cliff lies before us. The Legislature must act by May 23 if anything is going to be resolved during this session. The state must have a budget approved by July 1 if we’re going to avoid a state government shut down.
The governor and the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have made their values and priorities clear. While the language of compromise has been in the air since January, there’s little to see on the ground as I write these words. Who will blink first? Who will make the first serious move? Who has the courage to imagine a win-win path down to a balanced budget?
As a resident of this state and a taxpayer, I’m at the edge of that cliff. The way I see it, most of us risk falling off that edge if politicians can’t compromise. Unfortunately, too many of those standing at the cliff’s edge (or hanging by their fingertips over the chasm below) are mainly thinking about who will win and who will lose.
The way I see it, it’s the Legislature that has to show that they’re really interested in serving all Minnesotans. The governor has already shown flexibility.
Republicans insist on holding the state to a set amount. This much you may spend, people of Minnesota, and no more. And it seems like a common sense idea, on the face of it. We all have to learn to live within budgets — or if we don’t, financial disaster hits us.
However, just how “realistic” is the magic number the Republicans are using? Where did that number come from and what makes it better than any other number? And why can’t new revenue be tapped to make any number work? Only cuts. No new revenue. That’s been their mantra since last summer.
What about the metaphor of that family and their kitchen table budget discussions that is so often used to promote the “cuts only” ideology? Other writers have already pointed out the dysfunction of that metaphor — all the families I know also discuss additional income possibilities when they set their priorities. And what family designates the wealthiest family member as the only one who will not be asked to give up anything?
I’m interested in solving the problem first, but I also have values that guide my perspective on the budget question; I’m concerned about how fair the proposed budgets are. Who is being asked to give up what to get us down from this cliffhanger?
Why are the Republicans in the state Legislature (including our own Rich Murray) so intent on protecting the rich — at the expense of everybody else — from any shared sacrifice in these troubled economic times? Why are they acting as if the wealthiest Minnesotans are too “fragile” to bring anything to that kitchen table?
So as I contemplate what’s being discussed and decided in St. Paul, I keep thinking about fairness. I’m thinking about people who work hard but are homeless, hungry or unable to pay for health care. I’m thinking about the children in most families, the ones in school and the ones in day care. I’m thinking about college students, nursing home residents and the elderly or handicapped who are currently able to live on their own. Money collected from taxpayers helps all of those people.
And because I can also be selfish, I’m thinking about the streets in our neighborhood, which look like they’ve been through an earthquake, more hours cut at the public library, fewer police officers. fewer firefighters and fewer music educators in Albert Lea schools.
Between those two lists, it seems that most of us are being asked to contribute our pound of flesh to the Republicans’ budget solutions. I don’t see how asking all of us to help make this budget balance leads to anybody losing. I do see everybody winning.
But for now, given what I read in the paper, wealthy Minnesotans — who might or might not help out with better jobs or donations for schools and colleges — still aren’t expected to contribute much of anything to solve this problem. If Republicans “win” and the Governor “loses,” I guess we’ll just have to hope that they do the right thing once they notice all that extra cash in their bank accounts.
Albert Lea resident David Rask Behling teaches at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa, and lives with his wife and children in Albert Lea. His column appears every other Tuesday.