Friday, March 13, 2009

The seven percent solution

The Senate DFL is getting a lot of grief for their seven percent, across-the-board budget cut proposal. Sen. Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Minneapolis) sounded several fiscally conservative notes at a Thursday press conference announcing the proposal, which includes a $1 billion cut to K-12 education over the 2010-2011 biennium budget. He spoke of "shared sacrifice" and making the tough cuts now to avoid bouncing from one budget crisis to another. The proposal to trim K-12 education, which Governor Pawlenty and House Republicans oppose, has created a bizzaro situation in which Education Minnesota has (temporarily) switched parties.

As of the November forecast, K-12 Education was projected to consume $13.9 billion, or 38% of the state's $36.7 billion 2010-2011 budget. Health and Human Services takes 31 percent. In order to hold the teachers' union and welfare recipients completely harmless, which together take 69% or $25 billion of the state budget, and still erase the projected operating deficit as required by the state constitution, we would have to eliminate whole categories of spending, like Higher Education ($3.2 billion) or Property Tax Aids and Credits ($3.4 billion).

The Senate DFL proposal has a simplicity and undeniable shared sacrifice about it. But instead of a $2 billion tax hike (which, unlike the budget cuts are not shared equally among all taxpayers), let's start with a 14% across-the-board budget cut, spare us the partisan bickering, put aside the frills like casinos and a new Vikings stadium, and get down to the serious work of bringing structural balance to the budget consistent with Minnesota values and priorities. Only after this process is complete should we look at the possibility of tax increases.

If the largest income groups (our state's most productive citizens) can be tapped for ever larger income tax rates, shouldn't the biggest spenders in government also be asked to trim their budgets? Why should the public sector unions get a holiday from the recession? Where's the shared sacrifice in that?

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