A balanced budget; a fair budget

Originally posted on Winona Daily News

Every two years our state becomes embroiled in a bitter debate over the state budget. While there are a variety of plans on the table, it’s important to remember what Minnesotans want. Poll after poll shows that Minnesotans want a balanced approach that restores investments in the right priorities.

As champions of working people, we stand with the majority of Minnesotans who want a fair and balanced budget after decades of a broken system.

Over the past several years, special interests have rigged the tax code to favor elite corporations and the wealthy, while middle class families have shouldered more of the burden. We believe the governor’s budget eliminates tax breaks, closes loopholes for out-of-state corporations and ensures small businesses and the middle class don’t pay more taxes than profitable corporations.

The response from the state’s business community to the governor’s plan was disappointing. The state legislature has been giving tax breaks to big corporations while taking money out of the classroom and cutting critical services for seniors. As soon as business leaders faced the prospect of paying their fair share, they cried out.

But what do Minnesotans want?

Nearly 80 percent of Minnesotans believe we should close tax havens that operate overseas to avoid paying taxes. And almost 60 percent believe we should raise the income tax on the top two percent of Minnesotans.

The vast majority of Minnesotans support a reformed budget plan that puts the priorities back where they should be – growing the economy, educating children and caring for seniors. A balanced budget allows our state to make the crucial investments in education and care for our seniors.

A balanced budget also helps rebuild the middle class. With an increased minimum wage, families can take steps to reinvest in their communities. We support a new state minimum wage of $9.95. When we don’t allow people who work for a living to make a living, we force these workers onto publicly-subsidized programs.

Simply put – when the rich don’t pay their fair share, we all end up paying more.

A fair budget can help reverse the irresponsible cuts to education that have increased class sizes to among the highest in the country and made it much harder for middle class students to afford college. Our children have been forced to make sacrifices for years. Investments in education are critical to helping our state move forward.

When inflation is accounted for, per pupil funding has decreased by $2,199 over the last 10 years. Additionally, the stable revenue source for schools was repealed in 2001. Together, this means that schools are not getting the adequate funding they need and they do not know where the funding for the next two years will be coming from. This has led to an unprecedented increase in reliance on local levies to keep school doors open five days a week.

Minnesota’s schools and kids need new revenue, which is present in all budget proposals put forward this session. They also need a stable, equal funding source, which is available in bringing back the General Education Levy. Together, these changes will create a strong foundation for education in Minnesota to move forward.

One of the most concerning parts of this current discussion is the proposed cuts to Health and Human Services. The elderly and those living with disabilities have been used as political pawns year after year after year. While the population ages, programs for the elderly continue to be cut. Funding for nursing homes, healthcare professionals and home care programs have been slashed to extreme levels. We oppose the proposed cuts to health and human services.

Rather, we need investments in long-term care. We need to invest in workers through better wages and benefits to improve the quality of care for our seniors. A bill that would grant collective bargaining rights to home care workers would help stabilize the workforce and help us address the looming workforce crisis. We are all concerned about providing care and dignity to our seniors, and investing in better care now will help keep seniors out of nursing homes and save the state money down the road.

With a renewed emphasis on our state’s priorities like education, jobs and care for our seniors, Minnesota will be able to strengthen the state’s economy, restore fairness and invest in a brighter future.

Jamie Gulley is president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota

Carol Nieters is executive director of SEIU Local 284

Javier Morillo is president of SEIU Local 26

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