The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 12, 2013

GOP anti-tax hurts poor, disabled, seniors, students


---- — This is in response to Al DeKruif’s Your View published June 19, “Democrats used bait and switch on business.”

DeKruif extols the “Republican philosophy of limited government and growth and opportunity for all.” DeKruif’s sugarcoated portrayal of conservative ideology ignores numerous ugly realities over 10 years of Minnesota history.

Presumably, DeKruif would glorify the Republican-controlled 2011-2012 Legislature, which dragged Minnesota into a nearly-unprecedented state government shutdown.

Following eight years of Tim Pawlenty (Gov. No New Taxes) in 2011, most Republican lawmakers eagerly embraced a rigid No New Taxes pledge. On spending, Republicans demonstrated the same extreme rigidity, wearing pennies taped to their lapels to emphasize they wouldn’t accept a state budget one penny more than $34.2 billion.

Meanwhile, Gov. Dayton offered flexible budget caps, and cut in half his initial proposal to raise taxes on the highest incomes. Republicans also borrowed against future school funding to help balance the budget. The 2011-12 Legislature is nothing to celebrate.

DeKruif argues, “No tax increases were necessary to balance this year’s budget.” Minnesota’s Constitution requires a balanced budget; expenditures cannot exceed revenues. As such, whenever there is a state budget deficit, No New Taxes philosophy will inevitably force addressing it with 100 percent spending cuts.

This philosophy dominated during Pawlenty’s governorship (2003-2011) and the 2011-12

Legislature.

The results? Steep funding cuts to programs helping disabled adults, nursing-home assistance for seniors, and aid programs for poor families and children (in 2003, Pawlenty derisively dismissed those clobbered by these cuts as “victims du jour”)

Skyrocketing property taxes, a result of local governments addressing budget shortfalls caused by repeated cuts to Local Government Aid.

Soaring tuitions at state colleges and universities. As 2013 dawned, MnSCU funding had been cut below fiscal year 1999 levels.

These Republican-forced, brutal cuts have resulted in lost faculty positions, increasing class sizes, more classes taught by adjunct faculty, skyrocketing tuitions, and students and families assuming crushing debt burdens. For 2011 Minnesota college graduates who borrowed to finance their educations, the average debt burden was nearly $29,800, third highest nationwide.

DeKruif provides no evidence that this year’s tax increases affected everybody; I seriously doubt that. Republican-forced cuts have repeatedly slammed Minnesotans, primarily of lower and medium incomes, over 10 years. This Legislature has said “enough,” and that it’s time for the richest few to sacrifice along with everyone else.

For now, Minnesota government is free of the stranglehold of No New Taxes ideology. That has meant a significant boost for state higher education, after years of destructive cuts, and a two-year tuition freeze for students in state higher-education institutions.

It has meant property-tax relief from local governments, benefiting businesses and homeowners alike. It has halted the recurring state funding cuts to schools, local governments, nursing homes, and aid to the unemployed and economically struggling.

Also praiseworthy is the collaborative budgeting process. Initially, Gov. Dayton proposed extending the sales tax to business services — but he listened to the strong opposition this aroused and dropped the plan.

Likewise, the proposed extension of the sales tax to clothing was dropped. DeKruif decries raising tobacco taxes as “regressive” — curious indeed, given that tobacco use is a choice (and public health problem), and the supremely regressive character of Republican tax preferences: always and forever cutting taxes on corporations and the rich, abolishing capital-gains and estate taxes, and shifting away from income taxes and toward sales taxes (highly regressive).

DeKruif favors “a little work and prioritization of spending to make government more efficient.” What he means is dragging Minnesota back, into No New Taxes, protecting the richest few from one penny of tax increase. What he means is slamming the economically struggling and middle class, once again, with cuts, cuts and more cuts.

Fred Slocum is an associate professor of political science at Minnesota State University, where he teaches courses on U.S. government, public opinion, political parties and American legal philosophy. He considers his political leanings Democratic.