A budget for the people

An open letter to the Minnesota legislators and governor.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tim Pawlenty laid out a new state budget that promises deep spending cuts and opposes any tax increases and, in doing so, threw down the gauntlet. ItâÄôs true that continuing support of governmental programs will increase the stateâÄôs budget deficit. ItâÄôs also true that if everything goes as planned, the Pawlenty budget would close a projected $4.85 billion deficit in 2010-11. There are serious problems, though. Under this budget proposal, if youâÄôre an underprivileged Minnesotan without children, donâÄôt count on state health care benefits. If youâÄôre a college student at a public college or university in Minnesota, expect your student debt to soar. But if youâÄôre a well-off business owner thinking Minnesota might not be the best place to invest, expect five percent tax cuts over the next six years. Ignoring for a moment that the budget hinges upon the not yet extant Obama stimulus package and delays the payment of $1.3 billion to schools, the proposed cuts to state benefits are best summarized by State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller: âÄúprobably not a smart or nice thing to do.âÄù Facing the prospect of 85,000 working Minnesotans losing health care and decreased funding for cities, AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron was harsher, saying the budget âÄúkicks struggling Minnesotans while they are down.âÄù The governor recently said that the âÄúupcoming debate should not be about where we are now, it should be about where weâÄôre headed.âÄù Where weâÄôre headed isnâÄôt pretty. In 2008, 55,400 jobs were lost in Minnesota, leaving 202,800 people listed as unemployed. Job losses are expected to continue with unemployment potentially rising as high as 8.7 percent. If we really want to plan for where weâÄôre headed, we should find ways to help Minnesotans survive the current economic crisis. And cutting them loose is a bad way to start.