With Minnesota’s government services shut down indefinitely, I think it’s important to remind people how we got to this disappointing place. There have been many political barbs thrown around, but a situation as serious as this is no place for politics. Minnesotans deserve to understand the facts that led us here, and how we can possibly get out.
When the legislature began session in January, its main purpose was to craft a two-year budget for the state . Former Governor Tim Pawlenty left us a budget that committed $39 billion to continue the current level of programs and services Minnesotans rely upon. The problem is that Minnesota’s projected revenue is only about $34 billion as a result of the poor economy. This leaves the state with a $5 billion budget deficit.
Republicans and Democrats agree that $39 billion is too big, especially given the economic times. We agreed to prioritize budget cuts to help eliminate the $5 billion deficit. The difference was that Democrats also pushed for some type of new revenue to help prevent the same financial problems in the future. Ten years of using gimmicks, one-time budget shifts, and temporary funding sources to fill budget gaps has taken a devastating toll on Minnesota’s economy. We want to fix this problem once and for all, which means combining difficult spending reductions with responsible new revenue.
In February, Governor Mark Dayton proposed a $37 billion budget, cutting $2 billion from projected spending but also gaining new money by beginning to level out the tax burden between Minnesota’s top earners and the rest of us. The Republicans’ initially proposed $34 billion in spending, relying solely on severe and damaging budget cuts and one-time shifts to eliminate the deficit.
In June, in an attempt to resolve the impasse, Gov. Dayton compromised, reducing his budget to just over $35 billion – cutting projected spending by $4 billion and cutting his original revenue proposal in half. The new proposed revenue would have come from increasing the tax rate on just 7,700 millionaires in Minnesota, the top 0.3 percent of earners who currently pay a lower percentage of income toward taxes than the rest of Minnesotans.
As Gov. Dayton reached halfway, Republicans refused to budge. Their proposal was the same on June 30 as it was on Jan. 1: $34 billion with spending cuts alone, plus a host of divisive policy issues that have nothing to do with the budget. Republicans’ refusal to compromise left the state without a budget at midnight on July 1. This is why our state is shut down.
True leadership means the ability to get a job done, and it’s become clear Republicans are not ready to lead. This job cannot be completed without compromise, but compromise cannot be reached unless both parties set aside the campaign rhetoric and start governing. Governor Dayton did so – he was elected on a platform of restoring fairness to the tax system and raising new revenue, but he was willing to compromise in order to avoid a shutdown. Republicans still refused to move off their campaign slogans and compromise.
Now, Minnesota is facing the devastating effects of the shutdown. More than 20,000 state employees are laid off without pay. Our state parks are shut down, costing the state $1 million a week and leaving a poor impression for summer tourists. Working families are unable to receive childcare support, leaving many parents facing the prospect of having to quit their jobs to care for their children. Hiring at hospitals and other facilities has stopped because background checks cannot be completed. Some businesses cannot renew licenses. Clearly, this shutdown will have long-term effects on our state’s economy and unemployment rate unless we act quickly to find common ground.
I have been supportive of the Governor’s compromise offers and will continue to keep an open mind until we reach agreement. I understand that compromise means none of us gets everything we want, and I expect the final budget agreement will be painful for many Minnesotans. But, I also understand the government shutdown is unacceptable and the pain increases daily. I pledge to continue to work to find a solution, and I encourage you to contact the Republican leadership in the House and Senate and urge them to do the same. Please contact me as well with your ideas, questions and concerns.