Monday, March 19, 2007

Minnesotans Ready for Progress, Waiting on Pawlenty

By Christopher Truscott

After quoting the biblical prophet Isaiah toward the end of his first State of the State address, Gov. Tim Pawlenty closed his speech with a call to action.

“In that spirit and hope, and in the great heritage of service and sacrifice that is Minnesota, let us walk together,” he said. “Then let us run. And one day soon, even soar.”

Four years later many Minnesotans are ready to answer the governor’s challenge. They’re ready for our state to once again take flight. All they’re waiting for is the governor himself to come aboard.

Pawlenty’s first term was marked by massive property tax hikes, soaring college tuition, devastating cuts to school districts statewide and reckless neglect of basic services and infrastructure. The “great heritage of service and sacrifice” that the governor talked up after taking office was sacrificed itself on the altar of his “no new taxes” pledge.

The Minnesota the rest of the country looked to as a model for innovation and leadership is quickly becoming a thing of the past. After decades of leading the nation, the governor’s policies are pushing us closer and closer to the ranks of the average and mediocre states.

Pawlenty will tell you his leadership has kept Minnesota strong, but under his watch we’ve actually grown weaker.

Our state domestic product growth rate of 1.9 percent between 2004 and 2005, the last year for which statistics are available, lags well below the national average of 3.6 percent. Rather than competing with the fastest-growing economies, we’re lagging near the bottom of the pack, alongside states like West Virginia, New Jersey, Arkansas and Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Mississippi. That’s hardly what the Republican and DFL architects of the Minnesota Miracle envisioned for us.

The governor is first to admit that our remote location and long winters put us at a competitive disadvantage with the booming economies of the Sun Belt. But we could once compete on the basis of a quality of life that was second to none. Today, however, we’re losing that advantage, too.

Last November Minnesota voters said enough is enough. They turned out many of the governor’s allies and handed firm control of both houses of the Legislature to the DFL, which has put together budget packages in the House and Senate that can help undo some of the damage caused during the first term of this governor’s so-called administration.

Is the DFL plan perfect? Probably not. Does it fix everything? Absolutely not. Is it a good starting-off point? Certainly.

A small tax hike on Minnesota families making more than $400,000 a year and individuals taking in more than $220,000 would generate $433 million over two years that would help provide health insurance for 70,000 uninsured children and get state K-12 education spending slightly above inflationary levels.

Before anyone buys into the inevitable “they’re raising your taxes” argument, consider that only about 28,000 people out of 5.1 million Minnesota residents would be affected by this measure. The median household income in Minnesota is $50,750. Whereas Pawlenty balanced budgets on the backs of the middle class and working poor, the DFL is merely asking the wealthiest Minnesotans to carry a little more of the burden.

If the governor can quote Isaiah, certainly he can understand the value of an axiom handed down in the book of Luke: “Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required.”

The first gas tax adjustment since “The Cosby Show” and “A Different World” topped the Nielsen ratings would generate much-needed revenue to begin a long-awaited modernization of our transportation system. With U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar chairing the House Transportation Committee, Minnesota is in line to receive some federal assistance, but if we can’t come up with the requisite matching funds Oberstar might as well be from Idaho.

With new revenue streams for education and transportation, the state’s $1 billion budget surplus can be used for property tax relief and buying back some of the school tax levies passed in recent years to help offset sub-inflationary state investment in K-12 education.

The governor has derided the proposals put forward by a coalition of conservative, moderate and liberal DFLers as “Taxapalooza.” His wisecracks mask the fact that he doesn’t have a plan. He doesn’t know how we’ll get back to where we were, let alone how we’ll get where we need to go. After mortgaging our future for his “no new taxes” plan during his first term, he’s blocking progress today to solidify his credentials with national Republican leaders in advance of a possible vice presidential candidacy next year.

The simple fact is it will take new investment to help rebuild Minnesota. When the governor and his allies say tax increases will kill the economy ask them to identify the benefits of their “no new taxes” policies. Ask them to point to the great new jobs they created. Ask them if low taxes equal growth, why isn’t Tennessee an economic juggernaut?

That Pawlenty and his allies don’t have all the answers is OK, nobody does. We didn’t get into this mess over the course of one year and unfortunately we’re not going to get out of it that quickly, either.

But the fact that the governor and his supporters aren’t putting out thoughtful proposals is simply inexcusable. It’s time for serious leadership and they have again decided to punt.

Don’t we deserve better than that?

Isn’t it time Pawlenty answered the call to “citizenship and service” he issued four years ago?

Christopher Truscott can be reached at He thinks Pawlenty should try pulling the goalie.

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At 11:39 PM, Blogger Matt Dean said...

The Speaker as well as the Majority Leader said in the Ways and Means committee on 3-14-2007 that not one penny of the tax increase will go to k-12 or health insurance for kids.

The revenue note for the tax increase shows that the tax increase will impact small business owners and farmers (more than half of folks hit) the hardest.

It is interesting that the Senate and House are both held by strong DFL majorities. All appropriations will go through the DFL chairs in both chambers, yet you act as if the republicans are still in control.

It is interesting that the DFL house and senate are proposing a 6% increase in k-12 after the GOP proposed and delivered much more and were attacked for not delivering dollars to k-12.

Note to Stillwater Tribune: The DFL is in control.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Chris Truscott said...

A celebrity commenter!

Bill had an interview last year with David Strom of the Taxpayers League and today we have with us Rep. Matt Dean, a Republican who represents the Stillwater area.

Fair enough on the speaker’s comment, but ultimately we’ve got to grow the pot to get back to where we need to be. Creating a new top bracket is certainly a more equitable way of doing business than simply raising the rate on the existing top bracket. Certainly those with taxable income of $400K+ are in a position to pay a bit more from time to time. We’re not talking about small farms, we’re talking 50,000 taxpayers who are doing way better than most.

Raising revenue isn’t the end of the world. Virginia did it in 2003 and its economy is booming. And as our economy grows and we start meeting our needs, we can certainly do targeted tax cuts again.

Short of raising revenue, how do we cut property taxes, build roads and fund schools? We can’t keep borrowing.

Ronald Reagan raised and cut taxes.

The DFL is in control? Pawlenty’s the governor. Until I see a veto override or a major gubernatorial fold I contend nobody’s in full control.

I hope as time allows you post commentaries at Minnesota Political Report. Blogs provide a great forum for legislators to skip the “filter” – in Bush-speak – and go straight to the people.

P.S.: Congrats on the Boom Site progress.

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Chris Truscott said...

I didn't have time for details earlier -- posting at the end of my lunch break.

For a family with a taxable income of $400,000, raising the tax rate from 7.85% to 9% results in a $4,600 increase.

Given recent reports of the distribution of tax payments, I'm comfortable with raising the rate on individuals earning more than $226,000 a year and families taking in more than $400,000.

It should be noted that in Dean's wealthy district, the average household income in 1999 was $91,599 and the average household with an income of more than $200,000 was making nearly $363,000 a year. In short, even in District 52B this isn't an earth-shattering increase.

Also worth noting: The median Minnesota household income is less than $51,000 a year.

Once again the GOP is giving the impression that it's looking out for someone other than typical Minnesotans.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Chris Truscott said...

Update -- March 26

Star Tribune

The House proposal includes projected revenues from higher income taxes proposed for Minnesota's most affluent taxpayers.


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