Posted: 12/30/06 00:37
by Dave Mindeman
All the bipartisan talk that is floating around St. Paul is all well and good, but I hope the new Democratic legislative leadership is not going to let that dampen an agenda for real, serious change. The Republicans via the Governor's office and the House minority caucus have been floating their own ideas trying to get out in front of the new session; a session in which they know the Democrats can dictate the legislative direction.
Siefert's proposal for a freeze on college tuition and Pawlenty's call for a property tax cap are simply safe positions that have no teeth and offer no real solution to the respective problems.
The voters have given the Democrats in Minnesota a shot at real change. This is not a time to be hesitant or weak in the knees. It is a time to be bold. Minnesota has been the nation's progressive leader in the past and can be again going forward. The voters are tired of budget balancing with the band-aids, cost shifts, and borrowing that the GOP tenure focused on.
We need to challenge the future, to use bold strokes.....break out ideas with some innovation. We don't need timidity... not now.
Regarding the Republican proposals: Our young people need real college tuition reform. You can freeze tuition hikes but it had better be coupled with higher ed funding that will allow the university system to expand opportunities rather than force more cut backs. And capping property taxes has no meaning if local government aid is not restored.
But in addition, new proposals are in order. The University of Minnesota should be supported in promoting stem cell research. A bold state initiative, as California has done, will give the University an edge when Federal funding is finally freed up as it most assuredly will be eventually. Programs that are in place and moving ahead will be the ones most likely granted furthur Federal grants. Minnesota has always been a proven health care leader.... we need governmental leadership to take that to the next level.
It is also time to re-examine our revenue streams. The wild swings of deficits and surpluses are proof that Minnesota's revenue is not based on stable, proven income generation. Some budget movement is a natural progression of the ebb and flow of the economy, but a negative $4 billion to a $2 billion surplus????, ...it is too difficult to be completely prepared for that type of fluctuation.
Taxes will need to be looked at... but they must be reasonable and have a specific purpose.
If you want specifics, let's revisit the sales tax. Eliminate some of the incredibly confusing sales tax exemptions... For example: Cold remedies. Some are taxed... some are not. We have an exemption in the sales tax for analgesics (Tylenol, Advil, Aspirin). Buy a bottle of Tylenol, you shouldn't be paying sales tax. Buy a box of Sudafed, you pay tax. Buy a box of Sudafed Severe Cold Formula (which has Tylenol in its formula), you don't pay tax. This is so confusing that the retailers themselves, often get this wrong. Solution: eliminate these extraneous exemptions but keep food and clothing out. In this manner, we can increase the general fund with a tangible income stream.
And for Pete's sake, we have to put an emissions tax in place. If the federal government is going to continue to stumble around the issue of greenhouse gases, then the states must lead the way. Vehicles that cannot manage at least 20 MPG city, need to be excise taxed for the extra damage they do to the environment. Money raised here should be directed to an alternative energy policy that is real and viable or offset with tax credits for energy efficiency in other areas.
Of course, anytime you talk about taxes in any meaningful way, it will be controversial. But it is time the discussion begins. New revenue must be generated so that we can make meaningful (and ongoing) cuts in the current property tax structure and middle class income taxes. Areas that are hurting so many who can least afford it.
The Democratic leadership needs new ideas. Pay as you go ideas. Stable budget balancing ideas. Now is the time to propose them.
To our new Democratic legislative leadership, I simply suggest -- be bold; be strong; get it right.