Minnesota may have a reputation as a progressive state, but for the past eight years, under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, it has been one of only a handful that have relied almost entirely on budget …
Minnesota may have a reputation as a progressive state, but for the past eight years, under former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, it has been one of only a handful that have relied almost entirely on budget cuts, accounting shifts, and federal dollars to balance their books. Despite a DFL-controlled Legislature, Pawlenty repeatedly used his veto pen to enforce his agenda and promote his presidential ambitions with conservative Republican activists.
Minnesota has suffered badly as a result. A state that once invested heavily in education, has seen its K-12 school funding slip to the bottom third among states. Higher education budgets have been gutted, forcing tuition costs for our young people to the highest levels in the nation for public colleges and universities.
Nursing homes have been starved, mental health services slashed, and millions of dollars in federal transportation funding has been lost because the state had no matching dollars. And yet, Pawlenty still left Minnesota with one of the largest per capita budget deficits in the country. It is a sorry record.
Governor Mark Dayton promised to stop the bleeding and return to a balanced approach to the state budget, that included a mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans. Polls show clear majorities of Minnesotans support that approach.
Unfortunately, the new GOP-dominated Legislature wants to continue in Pawlenty’s footsteps. They have taken an all-cuts approach to the state’s $5 billion projected deficit, by doubling down on the slash-and-burn approach favored by Pawlenty. Their approach would cut overall education funding, would wipe out 20 percent of the already-starved higher education budget, would throw more than 100,000 Minnesotans off their health insurance, and threatens to close rural hospitals and nursing homes. And, in the end, the GOP budget isn’t even balanced, according to the state’s top fiscal analysts.
In other words, not only did the Legislature fail to do its job of presenting a balanced budget to the Governor for signature, they’ve told him that he has to accept their spending plan, without compromise.
On the subject of taxes, Republican legislators say it’s their way or the highway, and their stand is threatening a harmful state government shutdown.
Gov. Dayton has already moved towards the Republican position, by reducing the size of his proposed tax increase by half. But Republican legislators say that’s not enough. Even a nickel in new revenue is too much, they say.
That position is extreme and inappropriate, and it’s a no-compromise approach that puts the onus of a potential government shutdown, and the unnecessary expense of a special session, firmly on the backs of Republican legislators.
GOP leaders in the Minnesota House and Senate need to explain the facts of life to their many Tea Party freshmen. There’s a difference between campaign rhetoric and the job of governing. While principle is important, the Tea Partiers need to realize that they’re not the only ones with principles. Gov. Dayton has principles as well, and by refusing so much as a scintilla of give on the budget debate, they show disregard for the governor and for the voters who elected him.
Should their intransigence lead to a government shutdown, they will show disregard for their own duties as legislators. They were elected to operate the government, not to shut it down. For eight years, DFL legislators accepted that reality and compromised time and again with a governor of the other party in order to keep the government running.
It’s time that Republican legislators learn that lesson, too.
2 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here