Over morning coffee, newspapers and last night’s uncollected homework sprawled across my kitchen table, I heard a state legislator’s radio interview. He declared that “we need to find some money” for a particular program. He made a great case for why the program’s additional $40-60 million was important.
I agree. It’s an important program but that’s not my issue right now. Ruminating over the legislator’s remarks, it was his verb choice that really stuck with me, not his argument for the program’s efficacy or impact.
“Find” means to discover, locate or reveal. It also means “to come upon by chance.”
Suggesting that money can be “found” reinforces the conservative argument frame that government budgets are bloated and wasteful. Finding money suggests that money may also be lost. Pulling on a lighter jacket from my closet, last worn in October, I may find a $20 bill in the pocket. Problem is, I didn’t lose it. The bill was there all along, revealing that I was a less than faithful steward of my family’s financial resources.
Minnesota doesn’t need more process. We need positive, progressive outcomes.
A better way of approaching state budgetary priorities is to first establish progressive state budgetary priorities. I understand that legislating involves negotiation and compromise but clear public policy direction involves hard choices. The “something for everyone” approach isn’t going to work with a state budget deficit that starts at $1.2 billion and will likely range to $4 billion.
The truth of the matter is that some budget priorities are more important than others. If we, as progressives, don’t make a strong, clear case for every line item in our proposed budget as well as identifying its place in the larger plan to move Minnesota forward, we surrender frame and context to conservative interpretation. If we do that, we lose and Minnesota continues sliding backwards.
Money doesn’t grow on trees and manna won’t fall from the heavens. Minnesota revenue is generated by Minnesota economic activity. Better schools, health care, transportation and economic development policy will expand that activity. It takes hard work and tough choices, not fortuitous intersections with chance.