A year ago at this time Tim Pawlenty was still our governor and the main topic of conversation at the state capitol was whether or not the legislature would ratify his unilateral cuts to necessary state programs to help local governments keep our streets safe and clear of snow, provide health care for tens of thousands of our poorest residents, and help working families make ends meet. (To the disappointment of most Minnesotans, the DFL controlled legislature bowed to Pawlenty’s pressure). The message was clear: “Times are tough and you are on your own. Good luck!”
What a difference a year and an election can make.
In his State of the State address Governor Mark Dayton laid out a very different vision for Minnesota. A vision that says everyone matters. That all children should have equal worth and access to a great education. A vision that says investing in people, in their local communities, is the way to lead Minnesota forward. A vision that says in hard times we have to come together.
I’m pleased that Governor Dayton’s vision resembles TakeAction Minnesota’s vision.
When the governor proposed his budget this week, he turned his vision into a concrete plan to move our state toward a more equitable and prosperous future. You can read TakeAction Minnesota’s statement on the budget in our newsroom.
The impact of eight years of the Pawlenty administration was that those at the low end of the economic ladder – working families, people of color, children, seniors, those living in poverty, the disabled – were asked to make enormous sacrifices. The result? Today Minnesota is more unequal. We experience some of the worst disparities in income, employment, and educational achievement in the country. Disparities between white people and people of color is the shame of our state. AND if that were not bad enough, Minnesota faces a $6.2 billion budget deficit in an economy that shows few signs of recovering anytime soon.
Last year, thousands of people joined TakeAction Minnesota’s reNEW Minnesota campaign to ensure someone who shared our progressive vision would be elected governor. We worked to make sure that we would not have another four years of reckless disinvestment in the people of our state.
Because of that work, we have a governor today who is saying “NO!” to this failed cuts-only approach and “YES!” to a more equitable sharing of our resources.
Specifically, the Governor’s budget:
- Speeds the expansion of Medicaid – ensuring better health care for 100,000 Minnesotans and bringing over $1 billion in federal funding into the state
- Protects 95% of Minnesotans from sacrificing more than they already have
- Invests in public schools, accessible and high-quality healthcare, and safe local communities
- Reforms our tax system by asking those that have benefitted from these inequalities — the richest 5% — pay their fair share
This is not to say Dayton’s budget is perfect. Cuts to Minnesota Care need to be avoided and more can be done to address racial disparities and hold large corporations accountable. Importantly, expanding non-tribal gaming to fill the budget gap is an unacceptable solution – no matter what.
In the weeks ahead, we will hear a lot of numbers and figures as the budget debate kicks into high gear. As you listen, remember that a budget is not just an accounting exercise. It’s a moral compact between our leaders and our citizens that will produce the conditions under which we’ll live our lives together.
And after you listen for awhile, I hope you join with TakeAction Minnesota and get involved. Months from now — whether either party likes it or not — we will have a state budget. That budget will only be as good as our collective effort to ensure it reflects our hopes and beliefs for the kind of state we want to live in.