Monday, March 12, 2007

They've been talking, just not clearly 

This is my answer to Larry Schumacher's question in yesterday's At the Capitol column. He asks a very good question:

What constitutes an honest, open debate?

Does it mean offering the public a vision for the state that you don't really believe in, secretly hoping they'll reject it and give you permission for something else?

Or does it mean putting forward what you actually think is best and hoping the public agrees with you?

These are questions that occupy the Minnesota Senate as the game clock on this year's legislative session reaches halftime.

They know that a good deal for them will require getting to the two-minute drill, not a halftime strategy change.

Since last year's election, Clark and DFLers have been saying there really isn't a state budget surplus, even though there's an extra $2.3 billion floating around. A billion of that is one-time money left over from the current budget, and the rest is eaten up by inflationary costs, she said.

The Senate puts more than half of the $1.3 billion available for inflationary costs into education, and almost $500 million of that goes into relieving the special education funding gap that is plaguing school districts around the state, including St. Cloud.

That means no money for property tax relief, state education formula increases, all-day kindergarten, a college tuition freeze and many of the other things DFLers campaigned on last year.

"If anybody wanted to do anything new or different, we'd need more money," Clark said Thursday.

Right, we talked about this here and on the air -- can't do many good things. And don't forget transportation! They're starving, s-t-a-r-v-i-n-g!!!. Hell, it turns out I'm starving too. (And here I thought the weight loss was exercise-related.)

Higher Education Chairwoman Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said college and university funding is far from enough.

�We are starving higher education,� she said.

Bull. The budget situation on our campuses is not as bad as this sounds. Holding back tuition increases is another way of saying we're going to give more money to middle-class parents of college-age children. You can hold the headline tuition increase to 4%, but what matters to the university is net tuition, not gross.

If Senator Pappas is worried about me starving, she's got 96 ways to help me out. Every day.

Back to Larry's column:

That brings us back to the issue of honesty. Last fall, I asked Clark whether tax increases were on the table this year.

She said that could only happen if officials first had an honest, open debate with the public about what we want from state government and what we're willing to pay.

Since then, DFLers have steadfastly avoided discussing tax increases.
I don't know about that. What they have done is avoid playing the card quite so obviously. They are calling for tax increases by saying "we can't do all the stuff we promised without more revenue." Revenue shortages mean the same thing. And when your party's base philosophy is government can do many good things, there will always be revenue shortages.
But if DFLers really think we're willing to pay more for a better Minnesota, isn't it about time someone started asking?
Government doesn't ask. Government takes.

UPDATE: Even the dinosaur notices.
Despite earlier pledges of fiscal restraint, DFLers in the Legislature are proposing increases in the income tax, gasoline tax, sales tax, liquor tax and license tab fees, along with new levies on lead paint, gravel, deeds and cosmetic surgery.

It's unlikely that all of them will get passed. If that happens, the total would approach $3 billion for 2008-09.

If you promised those things to your constituents to win election and then don't pass the taxes to pay for them, you've broken your pledge. How can you say tax increases weren't on the table without debate on the one hand and make all those promises on the other? It isn't like the forecast of revenue changed. Would that be considered dishonest?

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