Thursday, April 05, 2007

Somewhere in Minnesota

By Christopher Truscott

Somewhere in Minnesota there’s a guy who just finished a long day at work.

Driving home, he’s worried about pulling together his son’s college tuition for next year.

He pays more in property taxes than he ever has before, yet his local school board is considering cuts to the music program in which his daughter has excelled since starting high school two years ago.

The school system isn’t what it used to be, and the only thing saving it from a worse fate is the property tax levy that just passed three years ago and is set to expire in two years. Student-teacher ratios are up, classroom aide positions have been cut, and programs to help those who need it the most have been gutted.

He worries about what will happen when his third child, now in elementary school, reaches high school.

Health care premiums are eating up a bigger chunk of his paycheck and he’s struggling to make ends meet. On top of that, there are rumors that his job may be moved overseas. He wonders what will happen to health care for his family if that dreadful gossip becomes reality.

He makes $30,000 a year and his wife brings in another $20,000. They’re the typical Minnesota family.

As he gets closer to home, Gov. Tim Pawlenty comes on the radio and tells him he’s taxed too much. No kidding, our protagonist comments to himself as he continues driving.

“We just dug ourselves out of a big budget hole,” the governor continues. “Let’s not spend ourselves back into one.”

Our guy isn’t really interested in politics. He’s just trying to get by. But he still deserves the truth.

What Pawlenty isn’t telling Minnesotans, like the one described here, is the other side of the story.

The governor won’t tell our guy that under his watch college tuition has gone through the roof. He won’t tell him that the health care safety net has been decimated. He won’t tell him that funding for public schools isn’t keeping up with inflation and that “no new taxes” in St. Paul means plenty of new taxes on Main Street.

Also ignored in the slick radio ad the governor just rolled out is that nobody wants to raise taxes on the typical Minnesotan.

House and Senate DFLers have competing plans to raise taxes on the very wealthiest of our state’s residents.

Under the House proposal, the state income tax on families making more than $400,000 and individuals earning more than $200,000 would go from 7.85 percent to 9 percent. A higher tax on 28,000 Minnesotans – out of 5.1 million residents statewide – would generate $433 million to help reduce property taxes and boost education funding.

The Senate plan is broader and would raise the income tax rate on the 93,000 wealthiest Minnesotans to 9.7 percent, with the $1 billion in new revenue also going toward education and property tax relief.

The House and Senate plans aren’t extravagant. They’re staring off points focused on a couple of the issues most important to Minnesotans. We still haven’t addressed the health care crisis and college tuition is largely a back-burner issue. These proposals cover important basics and do little more.

In his first state of the state address more than four years ago, Pawlenty used the word sacrifice (or a variation of it) 15 times. But as a result of this governor’s policies the sacrificing has been left to those who have already done more than they can afford.

Nobody likes the idea of raising taxes on anyone, but ultimately we need new revenue to undo the damage done in recent years. DFLers at the State Capitol want Joe Mauer to pay more, while the governor wants the burden to fall on folks like the man described earlier. To people of good conscience, this should be a no-brainer.

It’s time we put progress ahead of politics.

It’s time we as a state start standing up for and honoring those who have already done their fair share.

It’s time the governor live up to his talk of the Minnesota “spirit of giving and sacrifice.”

It’s time we do the right thing because someone, somewhere is counting on us.

Christopher Truscott can be reached at He’s taking bets. What will happen first: Pawlenty raising taxes or the Twins winning an American League championship?

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