After listening to 70 individuals testifying for over 2 hours Friday at the Minnesota Non-Partisan listening session at Bemidji State University, several conclusions were very obvious. One observation was the sheer enormity of the crisis and how many areas and people the budget crisis effects. The second observation was the compassion and understanding from the citizens of the difficulty in solving the task at hand. And the third observation to me was a relatively surprising message to the governor…that cutting costs alone cannot solve this and additional revenue streams are needed. In other words…if it comes down to loosing some of these programs or raising taxes…we understand…RAISE OUR TAXES. (but make it FAIR).
Two sets of handouts were given to the over 250 people who attended, some from as far away as Roseau and International Falls. One set of handouts talked about the makeup of the budget and the revenue sources and the 10 year budget trend. The other handout, which was not covered due to time constraints, was actually more enlightening. Page 1 had a graph talking about raising income tax. It would take a 31% across the board income tax increase on ALL MINNESOTANS to balance the budget without reducing spending. Page 2 …it would take a 111% income tax increase on the highest tax bracket to balance the budget without reducing spending. The last page was the most interesting titled “AT WHAT COST: THE PRICE OF TAX INCREASES”. Remember…we are trying to raise $5 to $7 billion dollars here.
Extend the sales tax to clothing: $728 million
Raise property tax on businesses: $83 million
Add a new 9.7% income tax for incomes greater than $250,000: $714 million
Raise ALL income tax rates back to 1998 level: $1.8 billion
I think this piece made it pretty obvious that increasing revenue streams ALONE is NOT going to change the fact that some serious cuts are also going to have to be made along the way.
Every one of the 70 presenters were justified and eloquent in their presentations. Bemidji State University students were hand in hand with their professors pleading for their causes. Special needs home care providers were side by side with health care executives from St. Joseph’s in Park Rapids and NCRH here in Bemidji. From the young discussing day care issues to the old pleading for funding of the arts, these people were representative of how government touches every single part of our lives. I was proud of how our area was depicted to many of the panel, several who made the trip to Bemidji from the Twin Cities. On the ALMANAC Minnesota Public Television Show, they had clips of the Albert Lea Legislative Listening Session where 90 people showed up. Our overflow crowd of 250 + people reflected the passion and interest we have in our government.
The bottom line on our state budget crisis: no one fix is going to do this. It will take a “stew” of some budget cuts, some new revenue streams and a lot of pain to come up with the right recipe. Now more than ever we need communication and cooperation from ALL our legislators. I am convinced the people understand the problem, are willing to share in the pain, but expect fairness in the end result.