- Home >
- Media >
- Mainstream consensus builds for budget sanity, tax fairness
Mainstream consensus builds for budget sanity, tax fairness
ST. PAUL LEGAL LEDGER CAPITOL REPORT
An entertaining skit now on YouTube portrays your classic Minnesota church ladies slamming down the coffee and clucking around the table about their charitable efforts to help children and elderly folks in their congregation.
And then the chatter turns a little dark, toward a grave realization that their charity won’t be nearly enough for the compelling needs of the larger community to fix potholes, deliver education and health care, or to pay for Minnesota’s $5 billion revenue shortfall.
That video statement, by the nonprofit group A Minnesota Without Poverty, is one of dozens of tactics employed by a broad range of Minnesotans to make the case that yet another cuts-only budget-balancing solution is neither a solution, nor balanced.
A clear majority of Minnesotans already agree that reasonable tax increases have to be part of the budget fix. The Star Tribune’s Minnesota Poll last weekend showed that an overwhelming 63 percent favor a mix of cuts and taxes, and only 27 percent favor a cuts-only approach.
But the stalemate continues and probably will last until at least the end of June. And so the pressure is on to get the Legislature’s majorities to compromise with Gov. Mark Dayton for at least some revenue increases, in a state where the official Price of Government and total effective tax rates are headed for all-time lows. The anti-tax side has put up some big slick broadcast media ad buys and staged its perennial government-bashing rally. But that side is losing this battle for hearts and minds, and here’s a roundup of some of the more compelling, entertaining or just plain interesting ways that the common-sense majority is fighting and winning its case.
Courageous business leaders — despite the generic no-new-taxes stance of their umbrella groups — are delivering op-eds, legislative testimony and letters to the editor, warning against huge proposed cuts in local government aid in rural areas, complete elimination of state transit funding and loss of integration aid to poorer urban school districts. Among them are Matt Kramer, executive director of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and a chief of staff for former Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Kramer told Capitol Report last month: “I defy anyone of any political stripe to find a community of 3 million that doesn’t have a multimodal transportation system.” And a fledgling progressive business owners group called Small Business Minnesota was formed this spring.
The Invest in Minnesota coalition of nonprofit, religious and labor groups has mounted a public information campaign called “20 Ways in 20 Days,” a list of real-life impacts of proposed budget cuts on: the renter’s credit tax break; rural transportation assistance; the Caregiver Respite program for people providing at-home elderly care; college students already burdened by tuition hikes; bus and transit riders; and people seeking help with chemical dependency, among many others.
A compelling and simple civics lessons on the greater good that government does is spreading on YouTube from the website www.thanktaxes.org. To the tune of “Thank You for Being a Friend,” the video features dozens of folks holding up thank-you cards against a backdrop of park lands and lakes, bike trails, classrooms, the St. Anthony Falls lock and dam, health clinics, the Mall of America light-rail stop, and on and on.
The leaders of Minnesota’s mainstream Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic faiths have been particularly vocal and persistent this session. Organized by the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition, ministers, priests, rabbis and imams held a “Statehood Day” observance on May 11 to note that the state Constitution’s first words call for “the security, benefit and protection of the people.”
Veterans groups and Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Larry Shellito, the state’s former adjutant general, are beginning to speak out against both state and federal proposals that would diminish our long-term commitments for the health and economic security of those who have risked their lives and sacrificed for the common defense. Although legislative majority leaders have insisted that they did not intend for their sweeping cuts in state agency budgets to apply to veterans, Shellito and Dayton are warning that federal and state proposals will have that effect.
Rural Minnesota depends more on public sector investments and income security programs than metropolitan Minnesota, and the pushback against the all-cuts scheme has been particularly strong from community leaders in greater Minnesota. Mayors from small towns and regional centers, rural county commissioners, school superintendents and Main Street business owners are warning against real damage to the quality of rural life.
The state’s highly respected higher education leaders — University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks and MnSCU Chancellor James McCormick — delivered devastating critiques of the proposed gutting of college budgets in last Sunday’s Star Tribune, warning of irreparable damage to both our workforce and the research and innovation that undergird Minnesota’s business growth. Bruininks said: “At the center of [Minnesota’s] economy has been a broad range of access to different options in higher education. That’s at risk, and that’s something that’s worth fighting for.”
Deep cuts in programs that provide direct assistance to children in poor families — and the apparent failure of business-supported efforts to provide even minimal improvements in funding and a quality-rating system for essential early childhood education — have prompted a new effort called “The Onesie Project.” Lawmakers and the governor are receiving parcels containing the tiny one-piece garments worn by infants to send the message the all-cuts budget “is taking the shirts off our kids’ backs.”
Resistance to tax increases is natural and eternal. And we are all economic animals, wanting to pay as little as possible in return for as much as possible. But at some point, we have to grow up and pay our bills, including a reasonable price for some of the best government the world has ever known.
A version of this column originally appeared in the St. Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report on Thursday, May 19, 2011.
Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice, a progressive public policy organization that promotes statewide economic growth for Minnesota through smarter public investments in human capital and infrastructure.