By Susan Brown and Brian Rusche
Minnesota families, just like our Minnesota state government, have been hit hard by the recession and its aftermath. In times like these we do what it takes to persevere – provide for our loved ones, look out for our neighbors, and make wise decisions to pave the way for a better tomorrow.
Thousands of us have not yet felt the benefits of a fledgling recovery. Having lost a job or housing, nearly half a million Minnesotans are still face-to-face with hunger or homelessness, and turn to both nonprofits and public services to provide a temporary helping hand.
Unfortunately, just when neighbors still need a hand, state resources for providing this help are down. Like in most other states, the recent recession has caused Minnesota state revenues to fall far and fast. And so this is the challenge facing our elected officials: Do we rely solely on expenditure cuts inflicting real pain on nearly everyone, including those least able to shoulder new burdens, or do we favor a balanced approach that includes revenues, preserves some semblance of a safety net, and allows for strategic investments to accelerate economic recovery?
So far this legislative session, we’ve seen Minnesota’s legislature embrace a cuts-only philosophy that would inflict real pain, reduce public services, reduce money in the economy, and cost many people their jobs. This approach would create a downward spiral, making the economy worse. If government reduces spending too much while families and businesses are also cutting back, it only makes times tougher and delays the much-needed recovery.
Soon we’ll learn the details of Governor Dayton’s budget. He is likely to present a better alternative to address the revenue shortfall – a balanced approach that includes revenues. That way we can keep investing in our people, communities and future prosperity. We can keep Minnesota competitive by producing a well-educated workforce, building an infrastructure that meets our growing demands and preserving a clean environment for future generations. This ought to also involve common sense improvements to our tax system – a system where today the wealthiest pay a smaller share of their income in state and local taxes than other Minnesotans.
During this time, the worst national economic crisis since the Great Depression, most states have recognized the logic of a balanced approach that includes revenues to address the growing gap between needs and resources. Yes, they all cut spending but they didn’t only cut spending. To remain competitive, Minnesota must do the same. We have already endured a decade of deep cuts, and we have watched our quality of life suffer as a result. It’s time to lay the foundation for Minnesota to thrive when the economy rebounds.
If we continue to borrow from our schools and make higher education unaffordable, we deprive tomorrow’s workforce of the next generation of Minnesota leaders. If we take our police officers and firefighters off the job and close our parks and libraries, we will no longer have safe, attractive communities for people who want to start careers, raise families, and begin new businesses. If we stop caring for our neighbors with affordable health services, decent housing and adequate food, we will hold people back as they work to recover from the recession and reach their full potential. All of these items are so much more than lines in a budget; they are essential elements to our quality of life today and far into the future.
As our elected officials continue to grapple with a serious decline in revenues – caused not by overspending but by the national recession – we must not lose sight of the fact that this is much more than a math problem. We are talking about preserving the things that make Minnesota a great place to live. As leaders of the Invest in Minnesota coalition, we urge lawmakers to keep all of our options on the table and use a balanced approach that includes revenues. Let’s pull together and reclaim our reputation as a high quality-of-life state.
Susan Brown is the public policy director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Brian Rusche is the executive director of the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition. Invest in Minnesota unites over 200 faith, labor and nonprofit organizations from around the state in a call for revenues raised fairly to address budget shortfalls.