Editorial: 3 options for state leaders

Published 11:30 am Friday, May 14, 2010

Before we can solve Minnesota’s budget crisis, we must accept one simple fact. Gov. Pawlenty will veto any proposal that includes a tax increase. He’s held out this long, and as he prepares to launch a presidential campaign, he won’t give in now.

So, that leaves open only three possible outcomes in the current partisan battle.

A handful of Republicans break ranks with the governor and override his veto of a tax increase.

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The DFL gives up and accepts the majority of Pawlenty’s unallotments, having tweaked them just enough to save face.

We go to a special session that drags into summer.

Of these options, the second is the least palatable. We firmly believe that if Minnesota balances its books strictly through spending cuts, then the effect on our schools, health care system and social services will be devastating. So, as much as we’d prefer to avoid a special session, it would be better than a DFL capitulation.

But what about the first option? Is there any possibility that some Republicans will decide not to follow their outgoing governor as he rides off into the sunset?

We’d like to think so, but in order for that to happen, something’s gotta change.

Shortly after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Pawlenty overreached his authority in cutting $2.7 billion from the state budget, we asked our elected officials to show some courage. We asked them to offer meaningful compromises.

So far, it’s a no-go. Sure, the DFL can rightly claim that the budget-balancing plan it sent to Pawlenty and his veto pen was a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, but in reality it was the same tired idea we’ve heard for years. By targeting only the wealthiest Minnesotans, the Democrats showed that their prime concern is still to minimize their political exposure in an election year.

No Republican would have even the slightest reason to support such a one-sided proposal. Doing so in an attempted veto override would be political suicide.

So, assuming that the DFL really wants to attract some GOP support, it will have to stick its neck out a bit. It must make a tax proposal that’s creative, that affects a broader cross-section of Minnesotans. Some possibilities include extending the sales tax to clothes and groceries, raising income taxes for all but the poorest Minnesotans, and adding new taxes on tobacco and alcohol. These tax increases would be unpopular, but that doesn’t mean they’d be wrong or unfair.

Surely there is someone in St. Paul who is willing to step out into no-man’s land and say “I have an idea. It might cost me some votes, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

We’re waiting.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, May 12