Legislators need to know you are willing to invest in state’s values

Don Heinzman
ECM Editorial Writer

In recent years, Minnesotans have demonstrated they will vote for reasonable, fair and accountable increases in state taxes.

Republican legislators in both houses insist they were elected to prevent any new state taxes and are willing to take state government to the brink of a shutdown to get their way.  They may be over estimating that election mandate.

Minnesotans are saying they understand shared sacrifice to get the state budget balanced. Given substantial spending cuts, they are ready to accept a broadened state tax to protect needed services, according to some polls.

Financing of Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, is a good example of how compromises involving a tax increase pays off.  The stadium is getting rave reviews.

That financing package includes a 0.15 percent sales tax for purchases in Hennepin County.  What’s more, those who voted for the sales tax increase were all re-elected.

Another example is the passage of the constitutional legacy amendment in 2008, resulting in a .375 percent tax increase to protect lakes and streams, parks, forests, fish and wildlife.  This passed even though a smaller percentage of the proceeds was going to the arts and cultural heritage.

Still another example is the legislative over-ride of the $6.6 billion transportation finance passage.  It funds building the transportation infrastructure and creates jobs.

This package included a 5-cent gas tax increased indexed for inflation, a 2.5 cents service tax to cover the cost of transportation bonding.  It also included a half-cent metro sales tax to build local roads and transportation projects.  While some Republicans who voted to over-ride the veto were defeated in the next election, the critics are gone.

These taxes made sense to Minnesotans because they know maintaining a good road and transportation system is essential to the tourist industry as well as to farm-to-market businesses.

Still there are conservative critics who believe all government spending needs to be curtailed, even if it hurts people who need help the most.

Polls show Minnesotans are willing to take a tax increase to support a good K-12 school system. There’s support for spending more on early childhood education, particularly when experts say half of the children in the state are not ready for kindergarten.

Last year the Wilder Foundation, polling on behalf of the Bush Foundation, found that 60 percent of Minnesotans are willing to pay more taxes if they believe they are getting more for their money, if the tax system is fair, if it s a certain tax and if the purpose is to avoid erosion of funding for vital services.

The public’s priorities are: K-12 education, health care for children, help for the elderly, poor and disabled and for higher education, the poll said.

These next four weeks your legislators will sit down with Gov. Mark Dayton and try to work out a solution to the budget crisis. It will require compromises on both sides of the aisle.

Rather than seeing vital services cut, Minnesotans have demonstrated that in the past, given a reasonable and thoughtful need for more revenues, they are ready to share in the sacrifice of accepting a tax increase.

Now is the time to let your legislators know they may be underestimating your willingness to protect Minnesota values by making an investment in them.

Don Heinzman, former editor of the Star News in Elk River, is an editorial writer for ECM Publishers. His blog is posted on HometownSource.com.