Kitchen table priorities and the state budget


Governor Pawlenty frequently compares the state budget process to a family sitting around the kitchen table, working on their household budget. Pawlenty says that in difficult financial times like these, families make tough budget cuts and Minnesota needs to do the same.

The kitchen table metaphor is a good one to use, but the Governor’s proposed solution takes an approach that no family would ever find acceptable.

When times are tough, families do cut back where they can. They eat at home instead of eating out or they may skip a family vacation. But, when there isn’t enough money to put food on the table or to keep a roof over their heads, families will do anything to meet the need. Families will look for an additional job or some other way to get income to avoid cruel, painful cuts.

Unlike the Pawlenty budget proposal, families would never take their oldest, most sick and vulnerable family members and push them out the door because they cannot afford to care for them. Families look after their most distressed members first.

Under Pawlenty’s budget proposal, 113,000 Minnesotans will lose their health care coverage – over 26,000 are children. This is a direct violation of the Governor’s pledge in January that “we will protect all current health care eligibility for children,” as well as his commitment back in November 2006 to “cover all kids.”

The “fortunate” adults who are still able to access Medical Assistance under the Pawlenty budget will no longer receive dental, chiropractic, or rehab care. Unfortunately, health problems don’t go away when health coverage does.

The Governor’s proposal also has many people with disabilities losing access to the services that enable them to live more independently. It also cuts funds for childcare assistance for low income working people by 5 percent. Pawlenty often suggests that any decent administrator could absorb cuts like this without any harm. However, these programs did not have enough money prior to the proposed cuts and are already failing to serve over 6,000 families who cannot afford care for their children while they are at work.

These are not mere statistics, they represent real people; real families trying to make decisions around the kitchen table. Many are working people who, under the Governor’s cuts, will no longer be able to feed their children or afford the heart medication they need.

Even prior to the economic downturn and prior to these cuts, many Minnesotans were hurting. Their wages were not sufficient to afford housing, healthcare, and food.

These cuts will make things worse. Governor Pawlenty may dismiss the harm the cuts will cause, but the reality is that people die from a lack of access to health care. Others become too sick to work and lose their jobs. For people with disabilities or chronic health problems and those in economic hardship, this budget will be devastating.

If the state were to make decisions like a family around the kitchen table, we would ask those who are relatively fortunate to do more. Raising the top income tax bracket by two percent would raise about $1.3 billion that could be used to prevent the cuts facing the most vulnerable Minnesotans. This tax increase would kick in only on the portion of income couples earn above about $170 thousand per year. Another option, reversing the income tax cuts of 1999 and 2000, would provide over $2 billion to meet these needs.

The Governor would do well to take his own advice. The metaphor of a family budgeting around the kitchen table is a good one. Family values, taking care of the most vulnerable first, are Minnesota values. When the unemployed, the sick, the working poor, a disproportionate number of people of color, or people struggling in rural communities are hurting, it hurts all members of the family – all of us.