Republican budget worse than shutdown

Published 10:14 am Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Column: Mark Dayton, My Point of View

Just two weeks remain for Minnesota’s Republican legislators to decide whether they will agree to the fair and balanced solution I have offered to the state’s budget deficit. By “fair and balanced,” I mean one which resolves almost two-thirds of the remaining deficit by cutting spending and the other one-third by raising income taxes on only the richest 2 percent of all Minnesotans.

Mark Dayton

The Minnesota Department of Revenue says that those highest-income citizens now pay smaller percentages of their incomes in state and local taxes than almost everyone else. Asking them to pay more of their fair share, while sparing senior citizens, public school children, college students, people with disabilities and others from the serious harm the Republicans’ proposed service cuts would cause them is a fair and sensible solution.

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When I took office last January, Minnesota’s existing laws required state government to spend $39 billion for services, payments to local governments and individuals, and property tax relief, during the next two years. My latest compromise offer to the Legislature would reduce that spending by $3.2 billion, and raise $1.8 billion in high-income tax revenues.

Unfortunately, Republican legislators rejected my offer. They continue to insist on a $34 billion budget with no income tax increase on the wealthiest Minnesotans. However, they would increase property taxes for homeowners, renters and businesses by $1.2 billion over the next four years.

The difference is that I propose raising taxes only on Minnesota’s wealthiest 2 percent. Republican legislators want to raise taxes on almost everyone else.

Legislators who reject any compromise say their proposed budget would be our state’s largest. That’s true; but they fail to mention there will be about 163,000 more people living in Minnesota by the end of the next biennium than at the beginning of this one. We expect to have 18,000 more children in our public schools over the next two years. College enrollments continue to grow, as people of all ages train and retrain themselves for better job opportunities. Our population is aging, and more people than ever depend on one of the state’s health care programs. That is why the Republicans’ proposed budget can be larger than before, yet still require drastic cuts in essential services.

Republican legislators are also correct that they were elected last November with a mandate to restrain spending. However, I, too, was elected with a mandate: to make Minnesota’s taxes fairer and to protect the critical services our citizens need.

I respect the legitimacy of the mandate Republican legislators received. That is why I have offered to compromise and meet them halfway. They, however, show complete disregard for my mandate, by refusing to compromise even one dollar. The only solution they offer is for me to give in entirely to them.

Campaigns can rely on rhetoric, but governing requires facing reality. The responsibilities of shared leadership require compromise, which means agreeing to some things you don’t agree with. A “My way or no way” attitude makes it impossible to govern responsibly. Or to govern at all.

If the Republican legislators continue to demand to have it all their way or no way, Minnesota’s state government will have to shut down on July 1. The effects of the shutdown on many Minnesotans’ lives will be very hard. Far worse, however, would be the hardships that the Republican budget would impose on even more people during the next two years.

Senior citizens would lose the home care services that enable them to live in their homes, rather than having to move to more expensive nursing homes. Special education would be cut, as would services to people with disabilities. Many thousands of Minnesotans would lose their health care.

It’s always possible to cut government costs by eliminating services for people who really need them. But isn’t that what government is for? What does it say about politicians who would rather protect the richest 2 percent of Minnesotans, than serve thousands of our citizens with serious needs. The Minnesota I know is far better than that.

I ask you to please contact Republican legislators and tell them you want a solution, not a shutdown. Tell them Minnesota deserves better than their budget.

Mark Dayton, DFL-Minneapolis, is the governor of Minnesota.