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Minnesota 2020 Journal: If You Think I’m Cranky Now…

June 03, 2011 By John R. Van Hecke, Executive Director & Fellow

I spent last weekend practicing for the coming Minnesota state budget shutdown. Based on my training, I expect to be crankier than usual. I anticipate exchanging an occasional mutter for a full-blown, “hey, you kids, stay off my lawn” rant. Except, of course, it will be, “hey, you state legislative conservatives, do your job; pass a balanced budget bill and raise the tax rate on Minnesota’s highest income earners.”

For the past ten years, as conservative “no new taxes” policy shifted Minnesota from a more progressive tax posture to an increasingly regressive orientation, reliant on property taxes, St Paul’s city services have regularly been reduced. My city, like most Minnesota cities, now does less of everything. We have fewer public safety services, fewer rec centers operating at reduced availability, fewer inspections, fewer street maintenance services, and fewer library hours.

I’m a big library booster and user for all the expected large and small reasons. Libraries are the informational cornerstone of democracy, functioning as bulwarks for a free people. Libraries anchor strong communities. Libraries facilitate access to books, magazines and related materials that, if faced with a purchasing decision, I might not buy. They reveal the world, regardless of income. In our democracy, libraries are not levelers but enablers. Unless, of course, the library is closed.

The Saint Paul libraries were closed over the Memorial Day weekend, a function of funding limitations. My branch, along with six other of the 13 city libraries, is closed Sundays. It also closes at 5pm on three of its six open days. This is not a recent development but it hasn’t always been this way, closed on Sundays, either. We’ve adjusted, of course, just as we’ve adjusted to the “privatizing” of too many of St Paul’s rec centers and to irregular winter neighborhood street snowplowing.

Adjusting does not mean that we like it.

Having to shoehorn my local library branch visits into Saturdays can be an inconvenience but it doesn’t remotely prepare me for the reality of a state government shutdown on July 1. Honestly, nothing can prepare any of us for a shutdown. Yet, thanks to Minnesota’s intransigent conservative public policymakers, shutdown is racing toward us at breakneck speed.

As a responsible citizen, I asked myself, what can I do to prepare? The usual quippy responses—tear up sheets and boil water—aren’t so far off. Expect any activity paid by state of Minnesota funds to be shuttered, suspended or offered in such limited capacity that it might as well not exist. Consider state law enforcement; specifically, the State Patrol. While it’s quite possible that court action, in the interest of public safety protection, will order Minnesota to continue funding State Troopers, the State Patrol operating, isolated from other state agencies and resources, provides considerably diminished services.

Funding disbursements will cease. This means that healthcare service providers could have to tap other financial resources, suspend services and consider sending patients home. I don’t want to sound alarmist but unfunded nursing homes aren’t going to have a lot of options. Grandma may be coming to live with you whether you’re prepared or not. In fact, your home is quite likely a dramatically unsafe environment for Grandma if she’s a nursing home resident.

Vendors providing goods and services to the State of Minnesota will not be paid beginning July 1. Depending on the volume of business that they do with the state, most businesses will very quickly feel payment’s absence. It’s not unreasonable to expect that they’ll need to lay-off workers as a result.

State parks and similar amenities will be closed. If you’ve planned a very modestly priced family camping vacation over the Fourth of July weekend, your stress level will continue rising as you explain to your kids that, yes, the nighttime stars are still there even if they can’t see them from your Roseville backyard quite as well as they could around Bemidji.

So, yes, practicing for a state government shutdown is making me cranky. A very small slice of conservative policy hardliners are eager for this confrontation. They see themselves as doing battle with bloated, out-of-control government. Whenever I remember that my library is closed on Sundays, I don’t feel that government is out of control; I usually feel sad. And cranky.

There’s a better way, of course. Governor Dayton’s budget compromise, cutting state spending while also raising taxes on the top two percent of Minnesota’s income earners, is reasonable. It doesn’t go far enough, in my opinion, but it’s a reasonable compromise. If we focus on what really matters, we move Minnesota forward. A state government shutdown will have strongly negative short- and long-term consequences. There’s still time to do the right thing but that time is running short.

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  • W. D. (Bill) Hamm says:

    June 8, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Whaty I find amazing John is your ability to focus all the blame on the GOP. Only a handfull of our DFL legislators refused to participate in the blatant obstructionist behaviour that has been the trade mark of your elitist middle class representatives. I made sure to thank my legislator for his responsible and respectable behavior. You also seem to miss the fact that your elitist buddies have consistantly failed to give us an electible governor for more than 2 decades. Your teacher/ homosexual/ white collar public employee leading coalition continues to put themselves above the needs of the majority of us and can’t figure out why we keep rejecting them and their elitism. You convienently forget that you do everthing to keep our children out of the party so your college grads won’t have any competition in the political arena. You educate your children and intentionally undermine ours while blaming us for that failure even though you have stolen the local control from us. Then you can’t understand why we have turned so solidly against you. It is way past time to wake up and smell the coffee John, your power run is over, and you are now either gfoing to have to include us or die of erevilence.