Making better budget choices


Governor Pawlenty’s proposed budget shortfall solution pits education investments against affordable healthcare, pushes real budget choices into the next biennium, and, unremarkably, lacks imagination.

Opinion: Making better budget choices

Facing a $935 million budget deficit, Pawlenty promptly toed the conservative policy line: cut taxes, cut government. It’s the stock conservative response to any situation. Times are good? Cut taxes. Times are bad? Cut taxes.

How unimaginative. Honestly, after five years in executive office, you’d think that Governor Pawlenty would recognize a changing policy landscape and postulate a new response. Rather, he embraces a failing policy and, in doing so, exacerbates rather than solves Minnesota’s problems. It’s an unfortunate routine.

Normally, routine is a wonderful thing, the snuggy bear of human experience. We find extraordinary comfort in sameness. Ritual elevates routine, attaching meaning, usually spiritual, that in turn connects us to our past and too each other.

When I married, our marriage service order was straight from the book. The same will hold for my funeral: flip to the “f” section and proceed accordingly.

I value ritual’s community creation and connection yet a funny thing happens over time: it evolves. Ritual’s power remains constant while circumstances imperceptibly change.

That’s normal. Sometimes, though, imperceptible change yields to the dramatic and obvious.

We witnessed this phenomenon on August 1, 2007. The I-35W Mississippi River Bridge’s collapse caused a significant perceptual shift. Minnesotans were confronted with a hard truth: transportation infrastructure is nonpermanent. Bridges, roads, rail lines, etc., are not one-time investments.

Governor Pawlenty briefly recognized this, immediately signaling support for a modest gas tax increase to fund backlogged transportation infrastructure projects. But, within days, he snapped back to the conservative public policy hard-line: no gas tax increase.

Despite Pawlenty’s determined resistance, Minnesota changed and moved forward. A substantial transportation investment package passed the State Legislature and, through a veto override vote, became law.

A bridge collapse can have that effect.

People wanted their routine back. We want to live our lives, raise our families and do our jobs. We want to volunteer, engage our communities, and leave this world no worse than we found and, maybe, improve it a little. We don’t want to worry about collapsing bridges. We want our routine to affirm the human condition rather than undermine it.

Elected officials mess with that desire at their own risk. Now that Governor Pawlenty pits education against healthcare, he chances additional irrelevance. Minnesotans can and will move past Pawlenty if he continues to oppose collective change.

Schools or health care? That’s his solution?

Perhaps the Governor missed the public’s imperceptibly changing attitude: Minnesota is not a half-assed state content with half-assed solutions. If long winters teach us anything, it’s to carefully consider our lives and our needs, and then act accordingly. Warm seasons, like life, are entirely too short. We routinely focus on what really matters.

A $935 million budget deficit merits both our close attention and our leaders’ best efforts but, don’t forget, this is no moment for failing imaginations. The real is question isn’t “how do we close the budget deficit?” Instead, we must ask ourselves, “What’s our progressive budget?”

The answer moves Minnesota forward.