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The five best things about Dayton’s budget

Wry Wing Politics
Dayton and Frans
CC/Flickr/GovernorDayton
There is much to admire in the Dayton budget proposal.

Governor Mark Dayton went big and bold this week.  He took on the most powerful special interests in order to fix Minnesota’s chronic structural budget deficit problem.  Recent Minnesota Governors haven’t had the guts to do that.  This governor did.

The nitpickers are busily picking nits in Dayton’s proposal, and it’s not a perfect proposal.  But when you focus on the big picture, there is much to admire:

  • It Balances.  No gimmicks.  No shifts.  No one time revenues.  No smoke.  No mirrors.  The revenue and spending sides apparently balance.  Don’t you dare yawn about this accomplishment, because that has been a rare feat at the State Capitol in recent years.
  • It’s Balanced.  This budget does not embody  the extreme right wing’s “no new taxes,”  or the extreme left wing’s “all new taxes.”  It’s a moderate package of “some spending cuts, some spending increases, some tax increases and some tax decreases.”  While that may not play to the extremes, it’s the kind of balance that, according to polls, the vast majority of Minnesotans have been wanting.
  • It Saves Lives.  The Governor has historically worried that tobacco taxes are regressive.  This is a worthwhile thing for any lawmaker to consider.  But the flip side of that coin is that the benefits of a tobacco tax also disproportionately flow to smokers.  Because the tobacco tax is proven to lead to much more tobacco cessation and prevention, and tobacco cessation and prevention leads to much less tobacco-related suffering and death, raising the tobacco tax causes smokers to pay more, but suffer less.   It ends up being a “cruel to be kind” proposition.  The Governor dug below the surface to consider the public health implications of the change, not just the fiscal implications, and that caused him to do did right by smokers.
  • It’s Fair.  Wealthy Minnesotans pay a lower share of their incomes in state and local taxes than citizens of any other income quintile.  Dayton, a wealthy man, is righting that wrong by increasing income taxes on Minnesota’s wealthiest citizens.  To have a credible tax system, we must have everyone paying their fair share.  That’s not “soak the rich.”  That’s unsoaking the non-rich.
  • It’s Good Government (Not Good Politics).  “Broaden the base and lower the rate” has been the mantra of non-partisan good government advocates for years.   An astute politician like Dayton understands that taxing new things is always a tough political sell.  But he did it because broadening the base and lowering the rate is the right “good government” thing to do.  I know that observation probably comes across as pollyannish to cynics, but it just happens to be true in this case.

Dayton didn’t pick the easy political path.  This budget takes on a lot of special interest groups, and therefore seems likely to get pretty thoroughly shredded under the Capitol dome.  I can’t think of many Minnesota politicians with the political courage and integrity to propose a budget like Governor Dayton just did.  It’s a terrific starting point, and if even half of the major components of the Dayton budget survive the legislative kondirator on John Ireland Boulevard, that would constitute major progress.

This post was written by Joe Loveland and originally published on Wry Wing Politics

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