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Staying Focused on Building a Better Minnesota

March 02, 2011 By Shar Knutson, Guest Commentary

Minnesota is at a crossroads. The signs are everywhere. More than 200,000 Minnesotans cannot find a job. Countless more don’t have jobs that can support a family. Even worse, at a time when families need the valuable services government provides, our state is saddled with a multi-billion dollar revenue shortfall. A decade of relying on draconian budget cuts, shifts, IOUS, and regressive property taxes has not solved the problem. Our elected leaders must now confront our state’s crises head on.

Despite the challenges Minnesotans face, we must move forward this year and begin building a better Minnesota. It’s time for policymakers to focus like a laser beam on creating new family sustaining jobs now and crafting a fair budget solution that protects the middle class while investing in our state’s future.

Create Jobs Now

While Minnesota is better off than many parts of the country in our overall unemployment rate, our construction sector is lagging behind with nearly 20 percent of workers in the building trades unable to find work.

A billion dollar jobs and infrastructure bill targeting shovel-ready projects, for example, would quickly put nearly 30,000 Minnesotans back to work in private sector jobs. New jobs create a ripple effect. When middle class families have money, they spend money. When more people are spending money, even more jobs will be created.

As a recent Minnesota 2020 report shows, our state does have the capacity to effectively undertake an infrastructure package this year.

Both Governor Dayton and Legislative Leaders have said job creation is their number one priority. But it must be more than “trickle down jobs” in some unnamed future. Minnesotans need jobs now, and not just any job. These should be jobs that can support a family.

Protect the Middle Class

There are no longer easy solutions to the state budget. If we want our kids to attend the best public schools in the nation, have a highly-skilled workforce that attracts business, efficient public services, and safe infrastructure; we cannot cut our way there. We know this because our state policymakers have tried it this way for the last decade.

If lawmakers want to balance this budget fairly and protect the middle class, there must be new revenue, and it must come from those who have benefitted most, the rich.

For the last eight years, the middle class has had the budget balanced on their backs through higher property taxes, fees, and cuts in vital public services. The average working family pays more than 12 percent their household income in state and local taxes. The richest Minnesotans pay just less than 9 percent. That is simply unfair.

If anti-tax zealots want to use the kitchen table analogy about the budget, I would remind them that parents don’t stop feeding their kids at the table when times are tough. Sure, families do cut back on spending on non-essentials. However, they also consider renting out a room, finding a part-time job, or other means to generate additional income.

If we solve the state’s budget woes today while investing in education, jobs, and infrastructure; we can build a Minnesota that will prosper for years to come. However, our state policymakers must stay focused. Now is not the time to focus on divisive social issues or settling political scores. It’s time to do what is best for all Minnesotans

Shar Knutson is President of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, the state federation of labor representing more than 300,000 members of over 1,000 local unions throughout Minnesota.

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