Editorial: The 800-pound gorillas

Published 8:58 am Wednesday, February 16, 2011

No one wants to debate the real issues when it comes to budget deficits.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton released his budget Tuesday. President Barack Obama released his federal budget Monday.

Both deal with massive deficits. And the federal and state governments year in and year out address their problems with stop-gap solutions. What’s needed are real leaders who think about the long term.

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A lot of those elected officials get distracted with debates over ideology and philosophy. They aren’t trying solve problems so much as trying to get re-elected through appealing to the partisan base.

If a sensible, middle-of-the-road grown-up came in the room, he or she would say that, yes, more taxes are needed at the state and federal level, particularly for the wealthiest. He or she would say some tax breaks need to end. That grown-up also would say taxes alone would not solve the predicament. Cuts would need to be made.

At the federal level, the biggest cuts need to come out of military and entitlements. Plain and simple. Those are the 800-pound gorillas that are causing the headaches for all the smaller programs we keep fighting over (i.e., distracting the public with).

Here’s an example with the military: The U.S. spent billions and shed blood of sons and daughters to put in place a fragile democracy in Iraq, yet the people of Middle Eastern countries in recent weeks are throwing off their dictators without costing the U.S. massive war expenses. Perhaps America needs to believe more strongly in the power of all people of Earth to want democracy. It sure costs a lot less than sending U.S. troops.

At the state level, two areas need to be restructured — K-12 public education and health and human services. These are the two biggest state expenses. Yet little to nothing is done to change them. We want to keep education strong in Minnesota, but school districts deserve a formula that is fair, pragmatic and equalizes the funding and realizes savings. Minnesota needs to undo what the Big Plan started in 2001. Health and human services is a key safety net. It, too, deserves a hard look, especially for reducing bureaucracy while maintaining results.

For all deficits, though, all areas are going to have to face reductions. There is no easy solution.

Let’s get away from stop-gap solutions and take steps that keep Minnesota out of deficits in coming years. As for the feds, deficit spending is the way of life for officials from both parties. Still, the amount of it needs to be brought under reasonable control for the benefit of the dollar and of the U.S. economy. This isn’t just a “tea party issue” anymore.