Friday, July 8, 2011

The world has gone mad today . . .

It would be nice to be able to blame Minnesota's current political disfunction on the heat, but we haven't had any to speak of recently, or at least none provided by Mother Nature.

The Minnesota Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton are currently at odds over how much to spend in the next two years. A panel put together by former Governor Arne Carlson and former Vice President Walter Mondale has proposed a compromise plan to fund government for two years. The plan includes spending $3.6 billion less than called for by current projections and bringing in additional revenue through a 4% income surtax and additional cigarette and alcohol taxes. The panel's recommendations have brought Republicans and Democrats together. Alas, they've combined forces only in rejecting the proposal.

Wake up, folks. The problems we face are faced by all of us, not simply the rich, the poor or the middle class (whatever that may be). This means we all have to be part of the solution, whether by receiving slightly less or contributing slightly more. Unfortunately, my position is radical in today's environment.

We're told that the Legislature and Gov. Dayton are $1.4 billion apart. Sounds like a lot until you break it down. That's about $.40 a day per Minnesotan, over two years, or less than $.90 a day per employed Minnesotan. By saying that, I am not saying just raise taxes and be done with it. I'm simply pointing out the amount at stake per person, if we all share in the burden.

Given Minnesota's historical preference for progressive taxation and for public programs, it's not unreasonable to expect that the majority of the solution will be borne by those of us with resources. But it also is not unreasonable to also ask that those with fewer resources participate.

Part of the problem here in Minnesota (and nationally) is that we think there are immediate, consequence-free fixes for problems that have developed over decades. There aren't. We've built programs, roads, and dependencies over time, few of which can be abandoned on a moment's notice without significant harm to some or all of us. We've built state parks that require supervision and maintenance. We've created medical insurance programs upon which thousands now depend and for which there are no immediate alternatives. We've promised funds to local governments and school districts, with the implicit expectation that such funds would continue, to a greater or lesser degree.

We've done this on the basis of certain assumptions regarding revenue. With the near collapse of our economy in recent years, those revenues have declined. We don't have the money to do what we intended to do. Our choices are to get more and/or spend less. Getting more means taxes or fees. Spending less means not doing something, doing things differently, or doing things more slowly. It really is that simple.

What is not simple is deciding which of these things can and should be done. Declaring anything off-limits, particularly before providing or examining the details, is not only childish but plain stupid. As Barry Goldwater might have said, "Compromise in the name of the public good is no vice." It's time for the Legislature and the Governor to get to it.

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