Just as many parents get nervous when the kids are uncharacteristically quiet, Minnesotans should be a little uneasy that Democrats and Republicans seem quick to agree on how to solve the state's expected budget shortfall.
Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, say they've found common ground in their efforts to make up the nearly $2 billion revenue shortfall. Unfortunately that common ground is located in the coffers that contain the state's reserve funds with no plan being offered on how to replenish those rainy day funds.
The DFL-GOP solution appears to simply ignore the gap that's predicted for the 2004-05 biennium and deal only with this biennium's shortfall. It's a short-sighted solution that sidesteps what should be legislators' top priority this year.
In essence they're patching one hole in a leaky rowboat when they know full well there's a second hole that's letting water in at an alarming rate.
The problem is that 2002 is an election year for the entire Legislature. Neither party wants to allow the opposition to be able point to their candidates and say "they raised your taxes" or "they cut your favorite state programs."
If lawmakers choose a stopgap measure to this recession-caused shortfall it will be a shameful abdication of their responsibilities. They were elected to make the tough decisions, election year or no election year.
Gov. Jesse Ventura, who also could be a candidate in 2002, met the financial problem head-on. His plan uses a combination of tax hikes, spending cuts and reserve fund money to fix the anticipated revenue shortfall. It also starts to rebuild the rainy day fund.
Ignoring the long-range revenue shortfall and raiding the reserve funds could endanger the state's coveted AAA credit rating, which saves taxpayers millions of dollars in interest costs. As Steve Dornfeld of the St. Paul Pioneer Press points out, it took Minnesota more than a decade to regain that credit rating after losing it in the 1980s.
Legislators were all smiles and eager to take their bows when tax rebates were mailed to the voters. Now it's time for them to step up to the forefront and make the tough decisions needed to fix the state budget.
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