By Vivian Jenkins Nelsen and Judy Stuthman; LWVMN Co-Presidents
Sent to the Star Tribune, May 22, 2009
Last week the Minnesota legislature adjourned with no deal between Gov. Pawlenty
and the Legislature on a budget. This leaves the governor with the job of
balancing the budget. He has said he will do so with substantial cuts and
delayed payments to make up for the historic budget deficit Minnesota currently
faces, leaving us a budget that is balanced in name only.
All Minnesotans, regardless of income, will be the losers in the process.
Among the more devastating cuts was Gov. Pawlenty's line-item veto of the $381 million
General Assistance Medical Care (GAMC) program. GAMC serves 35,000 of the
poorest and most vulnerable members of our community, leaving them no option for
health care but emergency rooms. Hospitals already in dire financial straits
will bear much of the cost resulting in staff layoffs and service reductions.
It is estimated that the Mayo Clinic in Rochester will see a $30 million cut
as a result of this veto. Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) will lose
nearly $109 million.
HCMC is not just a safety net hospital caring for the uninsured. It is
the region's premier Level One Trauma Center, the destination of choice for the
insured and uninsured. Now, they will do their work with a lot less.
The proposed budget cuts will result in incremental erosions of government's
obligations for our general safety and welfare. How much can we stress the
system before it breaks?
Last March, a LWVMN's staff member brought her four-year old daughter, Lisa,
to a local emergency room. After a reasonable wait and a number of tests,
Lisa was diagnosed with a serious condition that required immediate surgery to save
her life. She needed to be transferred and the closest hospital was full.
The ambulance took her to a different hospital, just a few miles farther where they
got her into surgery at 4:00 am; the operation was a success.
The same story could have had tragically different results in an ER with fewer
nurses on duty and more people waiting. The wait to see a doctor and be treated
will be longer and riskier. The distance to be transferred between hospitals
could be farther, especially in rural communities. An extra hour in the waiting
room will be more than an annoyance for some. For Lisa, it could have been
the difference between life and death.
Services we all use will be cut. If your loved one is seriously hurt, how
long should you wait to talk to a 911 operator? If you are a store-owner,
how long can you wait for a court date against chronic shoplifters or vandals before
you have to give up and close shop? If you are a parent, how many programs
will be cut from schools, parks and libraries before the quality of the life in
our communities becomes unacceptable for raising kids?
"You get what you pay for" holds true for government, too. We would all
like to pay less in taxes, but the problem lies in what kind of a community we are
getting with our lower taxes. Tax cuts made in the late 1990s have not resulted
in greater prosperity, but in Minnesota losing ground in nearly every area from
education to personal income growth. Our employment growth has fallen from
27th to 44th in the nation.
The claim that any level of taxation is a deterrent to economic activity is patently
false. Tax increases on luxury services, clothing over a certain dollar amount,
and alcoholic beverages could have helped close the budget gap. An extra five
cents on a rum and coke is not going to deter anyone from going to happy hour after
work. Luxury purchases will still be made. Economic growth would not
have suffered. The same cannot be said for the people directly impacted by
these budget cuts.
Who is really afraid of tax increases? Evidence show it is not the people
paying taxes. Minnesotans approved a sales tax increase in 2008 to fund the
environment and the arts. President Obama told people making over $200,000
a year that he would raise their taxes, and he won with the majority of support
from that group.
Most people are willing to pay for the quality of life we enjoy in Minnesota,
yet the debate is dominated by a minority chanting "no new taxes" rather than the
best interests of Minnesota. This is not thoughtful leadership.
At the beginning of the legislative session, legislators were told that they
needed to budget like a family around the kitchen table. In the end, this
"family" balanced its budget by turning on their sickest and youngest members, while
rejecting help from its strongest and most prosperous. This is not the way
Minnesota's families care for themselves.
The Governor and Legislature failed Minnesota's families in this legislative
session. The lack of agreement means that the legislative representatives
we elected are not part of the final budget decisions, leaving the budget balancing
in the hands of one man. The balance of powers contemplates that the governing
bodies act together to best serve Minnesota. When the Legislature and the
Governor drew uncompromising lines in the sand, the only compromise left is to the
quality of life for Minnesota's citizens.
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