fresh voices from the front lines of change







“Compromise requires all of us to agree to items that we don’t agree with,” Governor Mark Dayton, May 16, 2011.

The Minnesota government has officially been shut down after budget negotiations failed to produce a state budget. There will be no trips to Fort Snelling to celebrate Independence Day, the Minnesota Zoo will not be open to visitors, 23,000 state workers don’t know when or if they will return to work, and services have been stopped for many of Minnesota’s most vulnerable. Why? Because Republican state legislators, who control both chambers for the first time in 38 years, cannot seem to understand what the type of compromise that benefits the people they are charged to represent: Minnesotans.

On May 16, 7 days before the Minnesota legislature was constitutionally required to adjourn for the year, Governor Mark Dayton (D-MN) sent a compromise budget to both chambers of the state legislature. This budget, a sharp change from his first proposed budget – which called for $3.356 billion in new taxes as a partial way of dealing with the $3.6 billion ($5 billion, but both parties have agreed to delay payments to former governors and the state’s public education systems) projected deficit – called for a recipe that was equal parts tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans (Dayton included) and spending cuts. $1.8 billion would come from increased tax revenue on less than 2% of the state’s population; $1.8 billion would come from mutually agreed upon spending cuts. That budget deal sounded like everyone came out a winner, right? Not to Republicans. Republicans said they would not support anything that has tax increases, even on millionaires and billionaires. The budget compromise failed, which brings us to budget negotiations in recent weeks.

As the negotiations lingered, stalled, resumed, lingered again, and finally resumed, Republicans suggested the governor call a special ten-day “lights-on” session to not only allow the dialogue between legislative leaders and the governor to continue, but to, in effect, keep the state government running. To his credit, he said no. His reason: he has been calling for a full budget approach since day one. It makes sense. In college, could you ask for an extension on a group project because you had different opinions? No. You had to work together on your differences, find middle-ground, work from there and turn the project in on time.

This nonsense about not raising taxes on the wealthy and taxes being the end-all to the negotiations is astounding. Governor Dayton’s final budget would have raised income taxes on only .3% of the population of the state of Minnesota: 7,700 people making more than $1 million per year. Again, Republicans said they did not have the support in either chamber to pass a budget that has tax increases for anyone, even the millionaires and billionaires.

It has been reported that Republicans also would not continue with the negotiations unless policy issues like abortion, Voter ID and changes to collective bargaining agreements were on the table to be included in their respective budgets. These policy items were in exchange for “new revenue in a compromise offer.” Adding policy items to the table of budget negotiations sounds less like compromise and more like hostage taking – if you don’t consider these in addition to not raising taxes, the government shuts down.

The reaction the governor had to their “demands” is reminiscent of the reaction President Bartlett has on an episode of “The West Wing” called “Shutdown.” The Speaker of the House, a Republican, changes the deal on budget negotiations he made with the president at the last minute. The president refuses to agree to the changes, saying “we had a deal.” The speaker says the president, in refusing, is talking about shutting down the federal government. President Bartlett replies “then shut it down.” It takes courage for a governor to react the way Dayton did. He is willing to compromise, he has produced compromises but the Republicans will not budge.

While it is a little presumptuous to assume the Minnesota state government shutdown is comparable to what is happening at the federal level, there are a couple comparisons. First, Governor Dayton had a 1-1 plan to deal with the deficit. Equal parts tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans to equal parts spending cuts. At the federal level, $1 for every cut = $1 in tax increase for the wealthy to lower the federal budget deficit is being suggested by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Second, Republicans at both the state and federal level will not compromise, or even include in negotiations, on increasing taxes those wealthiest individuals.

I am from Minnesota. My parents own the house I grew up in. I know how proud they are of their governor and their state senator and state representative (both members of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party) for standing up for them and their neighbors. I thank Governor Dayton and those elected officials who understand tax cuts aren’t the only way to solve the deficit problem. I hope that both sides can come together and truly compromise the way Minnesotans need them to; increasing taxes on millionaires and billionaires in addition to spending cuts, not just the spending cuts. And I hope that happens soon, for everyone’s sake.

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