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Note to silent majority on Minnesota taxes: Plan now to weigh in on May 11

Watching those noisy “T parties” recently got me to thinking about all the quiet ways that these allegedly unbearable taxes were making for a better, safer and more prosperous Minnesota, even for those who hate taxes.

One could start with the security around the event and the highway and transportation systems for the protesters themselves. And then there was our magnificent and expensive state Capitol building, one of the finest in the nation, which provided a dignified backdrop for the overheated speeches and incendiary posters suggesting that our governments are somehow illegitimate.

If the protesters were representative of the general population, 90 percent of them got their learning, and therefore their most important personal economic asset, from taxpayer-supported public schools and colleges.

Don’t let hollering go uncontested
And in thinking about how a larger silent majority should not let this angry hollering go uncontested, it occurred to me as well that maybe there is some improvement we should demand for the tax dollars spent on our public schools. Something may be wrong with our education system if so many citizens can confuse the legitimacy of the original Boston “tea party,” a tax protest preceding the Revolutionary War against a despotic undemocratic monarchy, and the taxes today that are imposed by the most legitimate, democratic and representative governments the world has ever known.

Improvements in civics education might help more people understand at least the possibility of a relationship between taxes and the overall quality of life in society, and the idea of common good.

And that got me to thinking about how the mostly Silent Majority in Minnesota — borrowing from President Richard Nixon’s very effective imagery in the protest-crazy 1960s — needs to be heard.

Most Minnesotans take a balanced view
Thankfully, polls consistently show that most Minnesotans have a reasonable understanding and acceptance of government taxing and spending. Despite years of anti-government propaganda from well-funded conservative think tanks, most citizens, at least on reflection, realize the verity of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ famous observation that taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Further, and more specifically, surveys also have shown that about 60 to 70 percent of Minnesotans favor a balanced approach to our historic $6 billion budget shortfall, or a mix of cuts and reasonable revenue increases.  Polls also have shown Minnesotans also support income-tax increases on the top tiers, and especially so if it goes to education and property-tax reductions.

That comprehensive strategy — deep cuts in many government services and programs, some accounting shifts, and some revenue increases, mostly through the income tax — is the basic thrust of the legislative package of bills moving through the Legislature.

The alternative — to yet another no-new-taxes solution — will be: no money for increased investment in early-childhood education; tens of thousands of children and working folks losing health-care subsidies and therefore coverage; a diminution in court services that even the Supreme Court chief justice has deemed unacceptable; and dramatic cuts in local government aid and a widening gap between low-income, middle-income and high-income neighborhoods in Minnesota.

Input really does make a difference
The anti-taxers have had their turn and more reasonable voices need to be heard now, if not sooner. Calls and letters and e-mails to the governor and legislators — no matter which party and how committed they are to one approach or the other — really do have an impact.

And there is a way to make a physical presence and a constructive show of support for the value of public investment. Noon on May 11 has been selected as a time for moderate-to-progressive citizens to show up at the capitol for an event sponsored by the broad-based “Invest in Minnesota” campaign, which favors a balanced approach to the budget crisis.

The campaign website offers other idea on how to spread the word, including tips on how to circulate some very persuasive video messages showing ordinary folks weighing in on the value of the things provided by taxes.

Minnesota’s total Price of Government is lower than it was 10 years ago, and our ranking among the states in revenues as a percentage of the economy is also at all-time low. Meanwhile, our state and local and federal governments do good and truly indispensable work every hour of the day, just as our private-sector mostly performs well most of the time.

We pay a price on the market for the latter and we pay a price in taxes for the former. As the Legislature and the governor enter their final month on the budget, consider helping make the case for the former.                  

Dane Smith is the president of Growth & Justice. A non-partisan advocate for fair taxation and smart public investment, Growth & Justice believes a sustainable economy provides the foundation for a just society.

Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/04/2009 - 11:16 am.

    Even the most cursory inspection will prove your concern for the efficacy of the public school system is well founded, Dane.

    One could begin the conversation simply by questioning the outlay of billions of dollars each year, accounting for more than 40% of the state’s entire budget, into a system that sends thousands of (largely racial minority) students out each year to face the uncertain future of a functional illiterate; a system from which 25% of even the “cream of the crop” (ie: college bound graduates), require remedial coursework in the fundamentals of mathematics, and the reading and writing of the English language before they can tackle first year college level curriculums.

    However, following your lead, it might be preferable to suggest a more subtle symptom…perhaps the confusion of so many people that are incapable of understanding the difference between a demand for the small, efficient government envisioned by the framers and Buenaventura Durruti’s dream indeed does suggest that “US Government” may be getting short shrift in the public school classroom.

    The polls you reference do suggest that some Minnesotan’s are in favor of raising taxes…someone else’s.

    Unfortunately, there are simply not enough “someone elses” to foot the bill a government with an insatiable appetite for spending racks up every year.

    Perhaps some remedial economics is in order for your silent “majority” as well.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 05/04/2009 - 11:29 am.

    As a third generation, lifelong resident of Minnesota, I am furious at the way this governor and his administration has literally wrecked our state. Never, in my 76 years of being a Minnesotan, have I seen our state in such decline; from terrible economic conditions which now exceed the national averages (a rarity in our state), to qulity of life issues that used to shine nationally and now place us in “average” categories.

    Hopefully, the citizens of Minnesota will understand this decline in the next election, and restore us to “The Star of the North” we once were.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/04/2009 - 12:08 pm.

    By the way.

    I wonder if I’m the only one that didn’t miss the irony of the timing of the small government vs. tax and spend rallies.

    The Minnesota “Tea party” rally was scheduled to start after 5:00 pm to accommodate the working class crowd, while those that are frozen with the desire to raise their neighbor’s taxes evidently have the leisure to drop by midday on a Monday.


    I’d like to bear witness to this vast silent “majority”, but since I’ve accepted a 10% cut in pay to help keep my employer financially solvent, I can’t spare the time off work.

  4. Submitted by Eric Ferguson on 05/04/2009 - 03:28 pm.

    I don’t agree with Thomas very often, but I too never understand why anyone holds rallies in the middle of a workday.

    Though as I write that, my next thought is maybe organizers are trying to hold their events in time for the evening TV news, and before legislators leave. The tea parties were an exception since Fox News gave them all-day coverage, but most rallies have trouble getting coverage. I’ve participated in some events at the Capitol, and the weekend events go unmentioned.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/04/2009 - 04:13 pm.


    The 1999 and 2000 tax cuts for the wealthy that Pawlenty refused to reverse cost Minnesota a billion dollars a year for the 8 years he has been governor. Those receiving the cuts don’t seem to have created a lot of jobs, but we do know that, without that $8 billion reduction in revenue, we would not be in the shortfall pickle we face today.

    Similarly, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy lost an amount in revenue each year that approximately equaled the budget deficit. Result? Billions upon billions upon billions of dollars added to the national debt.

    Such cuts in the name of “good government” isn’t just ideological, it is idiotic.

  6. Submitted by Ross Williams on 05/04/2009 - 06:00 pm.

    “Minnesota’s total Price of Government is lower than it was 10 years ago, and our ranking among the states in revenues as a percentage of the economy is also at all-time low.”

    Which explains a lot. Minnesota is in decline and it doesn’t look like anyone has the political fortitude to reverse that decline. Of course you can blame the voters. They elected people who both failed to produce the revenue needed to pay for services and wasted a lot of the rest on their campaign financiers’ pet projects.

    Every other country in the world has been increasing their investment in public education. They recognize that a trained workforce is a pre-requisite for progress. Meanwhile, Minnesota gutted one of the best educational systems, K-Graduate School, in the country. And now its complaining about the results.

    And its hardly just education. If you look around the state you can find many public facilities sitting empty or deteriorating that were built by taxpayers in the past when we were a lot less wealthy.

  7. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/04/2009 - 08:07 pm.

    “Similarly, the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy lost an amount in revenue each year that approximately equaled the budget deficit.”

    Wow, I’d *love* to see the data you’re referring to, Bernice.

    The problem is that Governor Pawlenty, and more drasticly GWB, started out on the right road by reducing taxation, but then veered off into the ditch when it came time to follow through with the necessary budget cuts.

    That being said, neither of those fellows blew trillions of borrowed dollars *expanding* a government we already can’t afford to fund, so in comparison to Barack Obama’s forst 100 days, the past 8 years have been the fiscal conservatives salad days.

  8. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 05/04/2009 - 09:03 pm.

    Re:”efficacy of the public school system”

    American education is inferior because it is based on the belief that everyone is the same and therefore will have equal outcomes. Talent in any particular intelligence area is not evenly distributed across the whole population. But education is designed to the low-average common denominator. Any extra educational resources are targeted at low functioning MRDD and LBD and MSD students. Not the high end of the ability range.

    The parents of bright kids have to dig deep into their own pockets to pay for a decent education for their kids. It’s the middle class and low income bright kids who suffer most from the lack of development of their talent and potential.

    I say, start the sorting and the tracking. No regard to anything but ability. Not race, geography, income, nothing. Let the cream rise to the top. Have a variety of educational paths for students with different strengths. We’ll get a greater return on our investment in education, and people better prepared for their role in society as a scientist, an artist, an athlete, a homemaker, a skilled technician.

    Societies with better education systems than the US’s attempt to sort and track their students. Maximize the strengths of the people where their strengths lie, not cramming everyone into one mold.

  9. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/05/2009 - 04:28 pm.

    Of course, Thomas: See, click on “Bush Tax Cuts” in pull-down menu at top of page. Read the September 13, 2007 article, “President’s reckless tax and fiscal policies force Congress to raise national debt limit — again.”

    From Page 2: “The total cost of the Bush tax cuts, including interest on the money borrowed to finance them, has been just over $1.4 trillion so far — about half the total increase in the national debt under Bush so far.”

    The other half of Bush’s increase to the national debt comes from the extreme but mostly unbudgeted increase in military spending for the Iraq war, the use of contractors, and weaponry, as well as a trade deficit that grew year by year.

    (The total increase over 8 years was somewhere around $5 trillion.)

  10. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/08/2009 - 05:10 pm.

    Thanks, Bernice. That’s a dead link, but I get the picture.

  11. Submitted by William Wallace on 05/08/2009 - 09:05 pm.

    Does minnpost have even one token conservative?

  12. Submitted by Nancy Gertner on 05/21/2009 - 03:27 pm.

    MinnPost is not obligated to have any tokens on the staff, only journalists.

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