At the beginning of this legislative session, I was eager to begin the work of addressing the serious issues that confront Minnesota families and the state as a whole. In particular, our most critical challenges are balancing the $5 billion budget deficit and getting Minnesotans back to work. The 2011 session began on a promising note, with multiple bipartisan agreements.
Regrettably, the 2011 legislative session has degenerated and will likely require a special session. The Republican-led Legislature refused to work toward a pragmatic and fair budget package and rejected compromise with the Democratic minority or Gov. Dayton. I acknowledge the importance of both Democrats and Republicans working together to tackle the huge problems that face our state, but the unwillingness of the majority to consider revenue as part of the solution is not constructive leadership. Gov. Dayton has agreed to a compromise, offering to come half way in solving the budget deficit. With little thought, the majority immediately rejected the Governor’s olive branch.
An all-cuts budget would be catastrophic to Minnesotans, and it has become apparent with the budget bills that the majority has begun to complete – after languishing in conference committees for six weeks – do not even use agreed upon fiscal analyses according to nonpartisan state agencies. Nevertheless, the drastic and detrimental cuts to crucial services are very real, including the loss of health care for potentially thousands of Minnesotans on MinnesotaCare, property tax increases of $640 million due to the loss of local government aid, and thousands of jobs lost in the public, private and non-profit sectors from funding cuts.
Meanwhile, for the last six weeks Republicans have been distracting the Legislature from important issues by focusing instead on social issues, which have no bearing on the state budget. They have proposed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and legislation to take away women’s reproductive rights. They are authoring legislation that attacks public workers, unions, teachers, and even renters (through big reductions in the renters’ tax credit). Yet another distraction is the proposed Vikings stadium, which seems to be getting more attention than the serious work ahead.
I am extremely disappointed that this work could not get done in the allotted time and will most certainly require a special session. The economy has a long road to recovery and middle class Minnesotans need support, not squabbling over peripheral issues. I hope there is still room for compromise and a willingness to look for solutions from both sides of the aisle, as I remain ready to help solve the budget deficit and get Minnesotans back to work.