We were kidding ourselves, in retrospect, watching Wisconsin’s political and policy ugly turn mean. We told ourselves, it can’t happen here. That kind of angry division just isn’t Minnesota. Despite substantive public policy differences, we convinced ourselves that Minnesota’s legislative leaders wouldn’t take the Wisconsin beat-down road. We thought that, given Minnesota’s public support for a tax increase, a balanced approach could work.
Now, just a couple of weeks away from a Minnesota state government shutdown, it’s increasingly clear that conservative policy advocates were never interested in a balanced approach, pairing spending cuts with a modest tax increase. They were just marking time, waiting for their disruptive conservative policy implementation moment.
Last January, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and conservative Wisconsin legislative leaders, controlling both the executive and legislative branches of government, came out swinging. Their first objective? Crushing Wisconsin’s labor movement.
I don’t understand how forcing pay cuts on state government clerks and prison guards, for example, while functionally forbidding them from having a labor union creates jobs or even stimulates Wisconsin’s economy. But, I understand what happened next. Wisconsin, already roiling in discontented, recession-stressed populist upheaval, turned that anger outwards. The opportunity to heal and move forward disappeared as tens of thousands took to the streets, choking the state capitol’s halls and grounds.
It’s still not over. And, given the recall elections in progress, it won’t be over for quite some time providing a terrific demonstration of what not to do. And, yet, Minnesota’s legislative chamber leaders appear determined to find their own private Wisconsin.
Divided Minnesota government meant that Minnesota’s conservative legislative leaders had to wade through an entire legislative session before they could inflict Wisconsin-style policy chaos on the entire state. Now, that moment is upon us.
On July 1, Wisconsin comes to Minnesota. Not the charming, like-minded souls who value strong schools, people-oriented community services and a good day’s work’s rewards but Wisconsin’s ugly, reactionary conservative side.
You’ll recall that Wisconsin Governor Walker wasted little time, using legislation to attack his opponents. He may have been elected on a job-creation promise but he came to the state capitol in Madison to settle scores. Wisconsin is worse for Walker’s actions.
Wisconsin isn’t alone. Conservative policy advocates in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana have done much the same. They promised economic stability and job creation then, after taking office, revealed another, deeply conservative policy agenda. Now those same chickens, flapping west, have come to roost.
Minnesota’s conservative legislative leaders would rather shutdown Minnesota’s state government than negotiate a budget compromise. Since the legislative session closed without a budget deal, State House of Representatives Speaker Kurt Zellers and State Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch have pursued a communications strategy that offers process rather than progress. They steadfastly refuse to consider any budget compromise that raises new revenue.
As we’ve observed in Wisconsin, right-wing social engineering disguised as fiscal discipline only makes a bad situation worse. Minnesota’s conservatives seek no less a radical reinvention of our state. Their budget’s details—still somewhat unclear despite earlier legislative efforts—would permanently and negatively alter Minnesota’s human care landscape. Their plans curtail and cancel efficient, effective human services programs. They continue defunding Minnesota’s schools and universities. They ignore Minnesota’s mounting transportation infrastructure deficiencies. They inhibit and destroy job growth, destabilizing Minnesota’s too-slow economic recovery.
Over the past week, Minnesota’s executive branch announced the painful, difficult steps it would take to shutdown state government. Over 36,000 pink slip lay-off notices were issued to state workers. The Governor’s Office release its list of “priority one and priority two critical services,” petitioning the Minnesota courts to direct emergency funding to continue the listed activities. Minnesota is spending a great deal of money just to disrupt normal government functions.
Last November, Minnesotans elected a progressive governor and conservative state legislative majorities. Minnesotans voted for compromise. It’s time for Minnesota’s legislators to embrace a balanced approach, pairing tough budget cuts with new tax revenue generated by raising taxes on Minnesota’s top two percent of income earners. This fair approach will move Minnesota forward, focusing on Minnesota’s priorities: strong schools, affordable healthcare, robust infrastructure and job creating economic development.
Or, Minnesota’s conservative policymakers can throw Minnesota under a bus. That’s what’s happening in Wisconsin. Governor Walker and legislative leaders are putting the needs of a narrow, wealthy few ahead of the state’s interests. Their actions are inflicting long-term damage on our eastern neighbor. We don’t need that angry division here. And yet, we’re two weeks away from exactly that.