Time to get a spine and get tough


I think that AFSCME Council 5 Executive Director Eliot Seide is on to something.

Standing before a Labor rally on the Minnesota State Capitol steps, shaking a model human backbone, Seide demanded that state legislators “get a spine.” He cast his challenge in partisan terms but the challenge extends, I think, to all state public policy leaders and not one particular party.

Governor Tim Pawlenty has, in policy terms, had his way. Legislators have almost entirely yielded to Pawlenty’s direction. No amount of insistence changes that observation. The conservative legislative minority has supported Pawlenty, preventing a veto override, clearly leaving the majority frustrated. However, after repeated budget cuts, particularly reinforced by Pawlenty’s “unallotment” initiative and his proposed $1.2 billion budget deficit spending plan, I’ve reached a near-sputtering frustration.

In the film, “Apocalypse Now,” loosely drawn from Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” the Kurtz character asks his executioner, Willard, “Are my methods unsound?” Willard replies, “I don’t see any method at all, sir.”

Minnesota cannot cut its way out of the budget deficit anymore than it can cut its way to prosperity. It’s time to raise state revenue. Enough forcing property tax increases on cities; let’s start with a $1.2 billion new revenue target. Communities, counties and school districts have repeatedly raised their property taxes and cut program outlays, adjusting for repeated unilateral state revenue sharing cuts. State leaders need to do the same.

We shouldn’t be surprised at Seide’s frustration; he speaks a shared sentiment.