Minnesota busted: Driving without a map

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by Marita Bujold • If driving without a map in uncharted territory was considered a traffic violation, then Minnesota would be facing charges of non-compliance.

The Soapbox blog offers a space for local opinion on local, state, national and world issues, including elections.

Once again Minnesota is staring at a budget deficit and across the state, communities are bracing for cuts to essential services. This scenario is bad enough, but equally disturbing is the fact that Minnesota has no plan for preventing this scenario from happening again. For the last six years, we have been traveling down this road with no map to guide us. We have no clearly articulated vision for the state. Every two years the budget is forecast, but with no underlying, collective vision driving discussions about revenue and expenses, we are virtually impotent to make effective, strategic decisions that will benefit Minnesota now and in the future.

Rather than mapping a plan for where we want to go and how we will get there, Minnesota has been reduced to a mere ‘budget problem’. Within the narrow confines of this reactive approach to governing, any substantive discussions are further constrained by the nonsensical rhetoric about taxes. Rather than acknowledging that taxes are a vital and even critical means of funding the array of services that meet common needs, taxes are framed as an odious punishment inflicted by a mercenary and greedy, and inefficient government. In this view, citizens are not empowered to evaluate and identify needs and support a collective vision for Minnesota. Instead, they are the victims of a tyrannical government that is robbing them of their income. What utter rubbish!

We are victims only if we choose to view taxes as a punishment rather than as a tool. As with any tool, some are better than others. Some taxes share the cost of doing the business of our community more fairly than others. We need to be able to actually talk about this.

Minnesota cannot afford to continue down the road of reacting to each budget cycle. This approach to governing is taking us in the wrong direction at an alarming speed. We need to map a course for the future — determine where we want to be in ten years and twenty years, even fifty years. We need to consider carefully all of the possible futures before us and determine together the direction we want to pursue. Then we need to plan using the most effective tools we have to secure a promising future for us and all of our children.

Marita Bujold lives and writes in St. Paul.

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