Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Minnesota Legislature Will Solve All of Our Problems (while creating several more)

Quick, hide your wallets! The Minnesota Legislature reconvened yesterday.

Supposedly, the economy is in pretty bad shape these days. The dollar is weak. Home foreclosures are up. Retail sales are down. Sounds like Minnesota is also running a state budget deficit of almost $375 million, which could reach as much as $800 million in the near future.

Of course, our DFL-controlled legislature has the perfect solution to these problems: Raise taxes and spend more of our money. The DFL hopes to increase license tab fees, raise the gas tax and levy a sales tax in the Twin Cities area to fund an $8.4 billion, 10-year transportation initiative. Supposedly, the money will go to roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.

Oh, but there’s more. Apparently the environment, the arts and the outdoors are going broke and we need to rescue them (maybe Smokey the Bear defaulted on his dream home or Babe Winkler can’t afford nigh crawlers). The answer to this crisis is to amend the constitution and raise the sales tax to generate about $276 million per year for the aforementioned endeavors.

However, the projects and wonderful improvements that all these new taxes and grandiose visions will bring our great state would be meaningless if everyone dies. The best way to prevent everyone in Minnesota from dying is to make sure everyone has health insurance. The DFL has a plan for that, too. It hopes to wage a three or four year battle to insure over 400,000 Minnesotans without health insurance. No word yet on how they plan on paying for all this. My guess is they’ll ask the middle and upper class to pick up the tab.

I understand taxes are a part of life. Taxes are not all bad. Taxes build roads, support community projects, pay for essential services and help people that cannot help themselves. But when did we decide that taxes are the solution to all of our problems? When did prioritization and fiscal responsibility become a thing of the past? Why can’t our leaders on both sides of the aisle be a little more innovative in their policies instead of simply taking from us to fund each and every pet project and idea that pops in their heads?

State planning estimates show that Minnesota will collect over $9.5 billion in income taxes by 2011 (provided there isn’t an income tax hike). Minnesota’s per person income tax collections are 39 percent over the national average. We get 31 percent of our state revenue from income taxes, compared with the national average of 22. I’m not even taking into consideration sales taxes, levies, fees, and other funding mechanisms.

We collect plenty of taxes to fund transportation, the arts, outdoors and other essential projects and quality of life ventures. There’s no need to collect more. If there’s a budget shortfall, take a closer look at the books and reprioritize. Do we really need government-funded ski jumps, volleyball centers, or steel mills? Isn’t it time to overhaul our vast system of social entitlements? How about we focus our transportation dollars on roads instead of boondoggle mass transit projects that do nothing to relieve traffic congestion or fix failing infrastructure?

Of course, all of this would require a backbone, out-of-the-box thinking and the ability to say “No” every now and then. Unfortunately, our elected leaders think that’s too much work. Raising taxes is much easier.

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